A fascinating premise grows muddled in Jones’s semi-sequel to Passing (not reviewed).
Lila Giles returns, now happily married to cardiac surgeon Jack Calloway. Two years of marriage find the couple in a happy routine—a lovely house in Baltimore, two rewarding careers (Lila has an Internet story hour for children), and shared good works: each Saturday Jack and Lila make house calls to Baltimore’s poor and elderly black community. On one such day, when they stop at a convenience store for a bottle of Jack’s beloved Coca-Cola, three white men out front hurl racial epitaphs. The next Saturday, the same thing happens, except that, as Jack is leaving, one of the men clutches his chest, and the other two, having seen Jack before in his scrubs, plead for his help. But Jack walks to the car, a shocked Lila waiting inside, and drives off. Thus Jones propounds the powerful moral question of whether the black doctor should save the racist’s life, and it’s Jack’s implicit answer of no and the subsequent publicity the event garners that turn the wheels of the story. Along the way, though, that story gets derailed—when, instead of focusing on race, Jack and Lila’s marriage takes center stage. Conflicted about the death of the stranger, Lila feels she barely knows the man she married. The daughter of a prominent judge, Lila has lived an affluent and insulated life, far from the mean streets of the racism Jack was raised on. The once-happy couple begin to drift, Jack unable to explain to Lila the limits of forgiveness, Lila increasingly doubtful as to the solidity of their marriage. A subplot about a white woman who befriends Lila provides some diversion, but too many pages are devoted to the ongoing spats between Jack and Lila, skirting the moral question that got the ball rolling.
Intriguing, though the prosaic steals the spotlight from the profound.