The eighth from Britisher Gee (Christopher and Alexandra, 1992, etc.) confronts race and family but feels like Styrofoam: it takes up lots of space, but most of it’s air.
When the impossibly named Alfred White—caretaker at Albion Park, a place that comes to represent what’s left of British orderliness—is hospitalized after an altercation with some blacks while on duty, the aftermath of his recovery is the perfect catalyst for an examination of racism, UK-style. And, oh, what a family to explore: youngest son Dirk is a live-at-home skinhead who used to torture mice when just a wee lad; daughter Shirley might marry a dapper black named Kojo (he calls her his pink, pale pearl; he’s her “black, dark, beautiful black, a black with the sheen of coal or grapes”); wife May loves her husband and everyone else, but just can’t understand all these politics going on around her; and other son Darren is off to America for legitimate opportunity. The family history is littered with violence—before being beaten in the park, Alfred did the hitting around here. After all, there was that time when Shirley got preggers and no one knew whether the child was “coloured.” In any event, what’s going to happen when attacks start to occur regularly in Albion park because Alfred’s gone? He’s the caretaker—so he’ll have to go back, won’t he? Most among an American readership will tire of the lengthy interior monologue that passes for characterization here—we’re more pushed away than drawn in. And with characters so often either insipid bigots or righteous liberals, who’d want to be so close to their thoughts? Then again, the rawness may appeal to some, at least for the way it seems to record the continuing decline of the “dark” side of the British imperial legacy.
Stylistically, though, still on the far side of the pond.