A neglected 9-year-old biracial child adopted by a powerful white family grows up to fulfill his potential only to confront a secret which will recast his entire sense of self.
The question haunting Umrigar’s (The Story Hour, 2014, etc.) seventh novel is: when? When will the chickens come home to roost? After Anton Vesper’s new father, Judge David Coleman, manipulates both the child and his crack-addict mother, Juanita, in order to cement Anton’s adoption? David and his trusting wife, Delores, lost their only son, James, in a car crash, and while Anton will never replace James, David thinks fostering the boy will help Delores heal. Soon the judge is convinced that all parties (except Juanita) will be better off with Anton living with the Colemans permanently. The son of a senator and tapped for the governorship himself, David has powerful friends who help ensure a lengthy prison term for Juanita, and when her release is imminent, David persuades her, with lies, to relinquish custody of her son. Years pass. Anton—also lied to—thrives, studies at Harvard, and is elected attorney general, but the reckoning is unavoidable. Umrigar’s conscientious, one-track story doesn’t offer much in the way of nuance. Characters are simple, plot developments easy to predict, and the racial lessons heavily underscored. David abuses his power; Juanita, poor, black, and unsophisticated, is “railroaded by a bunch of powerful white men”; and Anton had “three parents in his life [who] had each betrayed him.” While the author delivers her morally explicit story in an efficient, readable fashion, the inevitability of its outcome renders it earthbound.
This tale of identity and privilege never shakes off its sense of running a mechanical course.