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 â€œAbsence,” a young boy drives his single mom to distraction with his yearning to connect with a star baseball player for the Dodgers. In â€œPatriarch,” 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. â€œPanthers 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. â€œThe 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, â€œConcrete 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 (â€œ â€˜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 (â€œHe 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.