A charismatic minister’s apostasy threatens his daughter’s political ambitions.
Ida B. Wells Dunbar, 34, was a tireless Obama campaign worker. Now, post-Inauguration, she’s languishing in D.C. awaiting a White House job offer. Has something sunk her prospects with the new administration? Could that iceberg be her father, Reverend Horace Dunbar, aka the “Rev,” Atlanta’s most revered and influential churchman and civil-rights leader since Dr. King? He castigated candidate Obama for distancing himself from the Rev’s friend Jeremiah Wright, and his diatribe has been immortalized on YouTube. When a family friend asks Ida to intervene, she reluctantly returns to her old neighborhood (and familiar Cleage setting), Atlanta’s West End, a crime-ridden slum turned gentrified African-American utopia. There, she’s fêted with mountains of down-home cuisine, provisioned by the many community gardens that have rendered the West End even more self-sustaining. Her father’s loyal sidekick Ed Harper is chief gardener, but his primary function is accompanying the Rev to speaking engagements, more numerous than ever during Black History Month. The Rev’s defection from Obama’s camp is doubly puzzling, since he and Ed spearheaded a voter-registration campaign that mustered more than 100,000 new African-American Democrats to the polls in November. Now, encouraged by the Rev’s seeming turnabout, corporate backers of the Party of No see an opportunity. If they can filch the Rev’s list of new registrants, they could disqualify them all on bogus grounds in time for the midterm elections. The conservatives easily co-opt Ed’s son Wes, an amoral, opportunistic WASP-wannabe who forsook the West End for Eton and the Ivy League. Can Wes, whose womanizing fits in with the rest of his stereotypical villainy, fool Ida (who pined for him in childhood) into thinking he’s after her, not her father’s list?
Refusing to challenge her characters, Cleage (Seen It All and Done the Rest, 2008, etc.) undermines an exciting premise.