A man seeking to make amends reflects on his complicated relationships with his two sons.
Readers of Criswell’s 2012 novel Peacemaker will recognize the sequel’s opening courtroom scene, but the point of view will be unfamiliar. In the earlier book, readers watched through the eyes of 18-year-old Jayson “Shorty” Jackson as he came before a judge in a Michigan state court at the end of serving two years in juvenile detention for shooting his friend Michael Stephens. Stephens was a promising student with a scholarship to Michigan State University. In the audience were Jayson’s relatives, including a thin, wiry man he barely recognized at first as his father, Jayson “Big Man” Jackson. Peacemaker described the son’s fraught relationship with his father through the son’s eyes; in Criswell’s sequel, the perspectives are reversed and expanded. “Big Man” not only tells his own story in these pages, but, in an unexpected elaboration that Criswell handles adeptly, he also learns the story of his own father, “Pops,” and his Uncle Buddy, told in long flashback scenes in which Jim Crow Mississippi and racially charged midcentury Detroit come to life in significant detail. (Pops recalls the 1967 Twelfth Street Riot in Detroit: “It looked like something out of a war zone. The street was in total chaos. Folks were screaming, fighting, breaking windows, flipping over cars, looting and burning down businesses.”) The narrative is significantly complicated with these rapid-fire shifts in time frame, switching from Pops’ story to his son’s and grandson’s, but Criswell controls the material with an immense degree of skill, pacing her revelations about all three characters so that the generational story never loses its energy. Readers of the earlier volume will know some of the key plot surprises before they happen, but the sequel is knowingly crafted for newcomers as well, investing all of its main characters with three-dimensional believability. They may at times think simplified, negative things about each other, but the reader is never tempted to follow suit. Indeed, the struggle that Criswell’s men have being good fathers and sons is the most rewarding aspect of this gripping novel.
A historically detailed, emotionally rich story of three generations of men dealing with and sometimes evading their duties to one another.