Father’s Day is an occasion for celebration—unless, that is, you don’t know you’re a father.
So it goes for Alec “Smoke” Avery, who learns that he has a 16-year-old son. Now a respectable teacher, Alec has a past of which his onetime nickname is suggestive: He used to deal down in the ’hood, and one of his best customers, Breanne, now Anne, similarly reformed, is the mother. “I’d sampled some of the ladies,” admits Alec, “but I hadn’t left any babies behind that I knew of. But that was how things worked, wasn’t it? You didn’t know you’d left babies behind until you got hit for child support out of the blue.” But young Isaiah looks like dad, right down to the finest of some fine features. He’s also headed down a path that may not have such a happy ending, and he has nothing but disdain when he discovers that mom used to be a crackhead (“Anybody with an ounce of sense…would’ve known better than to get strung out on crack”). It’s up to Alec to offer some role modeling and save the son he didn’t know he had—easier said than done, since down at the projects, the competition is fierce and the temptations many. Temptations sidetrack Alec and Anne, too, as some of the author’s more clinical passages explain. Little (Running from Mercy, 2006) writes comfortably in a range of registers, from N-word–laced ghetto slang to the more refined speech of the aspirational main characters, and with good humor to balance out the heavier moments (says one character of the comparative merits of Phil Donahue and Dr. Phil, “That’s what’s wrong with black folks right today…always looking to the white man for information”). There’s not an unexpected moment in the narrative, however, and the reader will see the ending coming from several blocks away.
A solid, believable cautionary tale—no surprises, but ably written.