THE BAKER by Paul Hond


Email this review


A debut novel that transforms the terror of working-class, inner-city race relations into an upbeat examination of love, loss, and father-son bonding. Set in Baltimore, Hond's appraisal of the cultural and economic barriers that isolate blacks and Jews recalls the bitter urban tragedies of Dreiser and Malamud. Mickey Lerner, a robust, sixtysomething Jewish bakery store owner, is alienated from his wife, Emi, a French-born concert violinist who no longer sees in him the integrity that once attracted her. Meanwhile, their 18-year-old underachieving son, Ben, spends most of his time smoking dope with Nelson Childs, the bakery's delivery boy, who just bought his first illegal handgun from a street-corner junkie. After a hundred pages of meandering flashbacks, often ending in alleys as dark as the decaying neighborhoods that Hond clearly loves, we learn that Mickey, at Ben's age, coulda-been-a-contenda as a boxer, but gave it up to run the store after his baker father died of a heart attack; that Mickey's last bout was against Nelson's father, who eventually abandoned his family; and that Mickey has harbored an earthy but unconsummated sexual attraction for Donna, Nelson's mother, ever since. The story takes off when Mickey and Emi are robbed on the street by a pair of masked black youths, one of whom panics and kills Emi. At first, the tragedy makes everything worse: Grief-stricken Mickey takes off for Paris in search of secrets in his wife's past, leaving Ben in charge of the bakery. And as a boss, Ben can't cope with Nelson, who buckles under the humiliating treatment he gets from bigoted customers and falls in with his criminal buddies. Fortunately, though, Hond wisely doesn't let his tale lurch to a violent climax but, instead, lets his characters find each other again as they uncover their hidden strengths. A bright Beaujolais of a book: fresh, optimistic, and sophisticated enough to satisfy on many levels.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0812974069
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Random