A debut collection offers 15 short stories that mostly reflect small incidents and bittersweet enlightenments in black life.
These tales by author and screenwriter Williams span the 1920s to the present and generally offer insights into the African-American condition in the United States. They are often set in the South and distilled into elegantly observed little narratives that border on vignettes. For the most part, there are no epic marches on Washington, police dog riots, or Ku Klux Klan horrors but rather emotionally intricate, character-driven portraits that typically end with muted epiphanies, quiet even when life-changing. A minor exception is the opener, “Some Get Back,” in which two Depression-era workers’ ill-conceived revenge on their hated boss backfires (a commentary on Ferguson?). More in the author’s subtle manner is “Tea Time,” wherein a typically “disadvantaged” black kid being mentored by two white liberal newlyweds comes to think (with some justification) that he’s just a surrogate starter son, filling in for their upcoming baby. In “Glass House,” a surprise visitor enlightens a homeowner couple to the origins of their architecturally eccentric Georgia domicile and its connection to the black criminal underworld of bygone generations. Set in the 1920s, “The Benefactress” depicts the dispiriting ritual of a principal from a progressive black Southern school reporting to the wealthy Madam C.J. Walker–type dowager in New York who bankrolls the institution; his meek bowing to her whims reflects the Jim Crow atmosphere they are supposedly trying to rise above. Not all of the stories center on people of color. “Just Desserts” features a poor white Southern girl, a hitchhiker and casual prostitute, who decides to wreak a form of street justice on the creepy businessman who (along with his teen mistress) gives her a ride. Williams draws the curtain on that one just at the point where any number of more predictable and pulpy writers would have gone all Quentin Tarantino. The title story concerns a 1950s Pullman porter who has helped his daughter attain college and a future but in the process feels he is not worthy of her social circle. Stings and wounds of racial and economic inequality here are mainly inferred—rarely are they so out in the open.
The feathery touch of these graceful short tales conceals melancholic undertones of helplessness and American class and race divisions.