Kirkus Star


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First-novelist Kenan conjures up a modern book of revelations, full of spirits seen and unseen, past and present, who haunt a few young inhabitants of Tims Creek, a black community built among the pine trees and tobacco fields of backwoods North Carolina. Sixteen-year-old Horace Cross and his cousin, James Malachai Greene, a preacher and high-school principal in his late 30s, feel the burden of their family's history weighing heavily upon them. The Crosses, mostly ministers and teachers ever since emancipation, adhere to conservative standards of behavior derived from their religious orthodoxy. But Horace, in particular, is a child of his time. An excellent student and a voracious reader of everything from Melville to Marvel comics, he turns to the occult as a way of escaping the painful truth about himself. An ""apprentice sorcerer"" about to become a ""true mystic,"" he taps into the dark side of the world ""preached to him from the cradle on""--a realm full of ""archangels and prophets and folk rising from the dead."" Whether he's in fact possessed by ""a ghost of the mind or a spirit of the nether world"" ultimately doesn't matter--for what results is a long nightmare of the soul, a jumble of disjointed memories, from his baptism to getting his ear pierced. And underlying all his remembered traumas is the unalterable fact of his homosexuality, an unthinkable abomination among his righteous kin. As modern a religious thinker as James is--well-educated, married to a radical northerner--he dismisses Horace's panic as a phase from which he'll recover. But when Horace's night of manic wanderings ends in tragedy, James begins his own soul-searching: Why did he ever return to Tims Creek? Why does he stay once his young wife dies from cancer? Why do the dynastic hopes and ""the will of a few dead folks"" exercise such power over this child of the New South? As much as family can engender sorrow and despair, it is also proves here to be a source of faith and joy, emanating from the spirits of community. Remarkable for its very ambiguities, this stylistically daring novel steers wide of the literature of oppression and uplift, and shares even less with tales of coming-out, in short, an original.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1989
Publisher: Grove