SWEET ORISA by Marquis R. Nave


short story collection
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First-time author Nave explores the ties that bind–and the tensions that divide–black Los Angeles in this engaging collection.

The author sympathetically imagines a broad range of characters, young and old, male and female, through whom he addresses two broad themes in African-American life. The first is the problem of fatherless young men. In “Absence,” a young boy drives his single mom to distraction with his yearning to connect with a star baseball player for the Dodgers. In “Patriarch,” denizens of the neighborhood barbershop hold forth on the problems men have doing right by their families, when their debate is disrupted by a tragically commonplace shooting. Nave’s second theme is the struggle of African-American women to negotiate male sexism and machismo. “Panthers and Pigs” revisits Oakland in the 1970s and the efforts of a female Black Panther leader to deal with the provocations of both resentful male underlings and menacing white cops. “The Clearing” examines a husband caught up in Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist movement in the mid-20th century, while he remains oblivious to the pressures he’s putting on his wife. In the collection’s strongest story, “Concrete Rose,” a 14-year-old girl surveys the social geography of her urban village–observing everyone from a well-to-do, achievement-obsessed African immigrant family to a deranged homeless man–while she confronts the budding misogyny of the local boys. Nave occasionally lapses into sociological preachiness (“ ‘what’s a young brotha supposed to do that never had a male to influence his life?’ ”), but he has a pitch-perfect ear for pungent dialogue (“He don’t do nothing but lie wit his fat stank self”), a fluent, well-paced prose style and a gift for rendering characters with subtlety and depth.

A promising debut from an impressive young writer.

Pub Date: April 26th, 2006
ISBN: 0-595-38643-1
Program: Kirkus Indie
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