Hopelessness, anguish, and anger seethe through this riveting account, by Washington Post reporter McCall, of one man's roller-coaster rise from the violent, self-annihilating street life of his generation to a respectable position above the fray. Although raised in a solid working-class neighborhood in Portsmouth, Virginia, McCall as a 70's adolescent was not free from the hazards of his and other black communities. His mother and stepfather provided a stable home, but gang-controlled streets brought him into never-ending contact with violence and crime. As fistfights turned into gun battles and sweet-talking into gang-rape, he did his part, stealing an ice-cream truck and, while a college student, shooting an adversary point-blank in the chest. A father at 17, he turned to stickups for cash -- until an arrest for armed robbery earned him a stretch in prison. There, he found more positive role models, straightening out enough to gain parole and reenter college in journalism. Jobs were not available for an ex-con, however, until an internship with a local paper turned into real work. An offer from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed, and McCall began a new life there with his pregnant wife-to-be; but with racial pressures no less intense in Atlanta and domestic trouble brewing, he began to lose faith, until his honesty paid off and he was hired by the Post -- an achievement muted by the knowledge that most of his former friends were dead, dying, or serving time. For any who might think race relations and conditions in African-American communities have been improving since the hard-won civil-rights victories of the 50's and 60's: a devastating, full-bodied reality check.