A WALK THROUGH FIRE by William Cobb

A WALK THROUGH FIRE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A Deep South town erupts during the Civil Rights period in this ambitious third novel (after Cobb's Hermit King, etc.--not reviewed). Hammond is as segregated as any other Alabama town in 1961, but Eldon Long, pastor of its biggest black church and a follower of Dr. King, plans to change all that. His chief antagonists are the Mayor--banker Mac McClellon, anxious to preserve Hammond's image of racial calm--and Rooster Wembley, one-legged barber and Klan leader. Man-in-the-middle is O.B. Brewster, a local hero because he was once a professional ballplayer. O.B. has a farm- implement dealership with a largely black clientele; he is the only white man Eldon trusts, and the pastor is prodding him to run against Mac. Two white SNCC volunteers arrive; a lunch-counter sit- in is tense but peaceful. Then a boycott of white-owned businesses begins, and O.B. hurts badly; the turning point comes when he returns to his country roots, grasps the meaning of love-thy- neighbor, and decides to run for mayor. So far, so good; Cobb's people may be players in a racial drama first, individuals second, but the battle-lines are cleanly drawn and O.B.'s conversion is powerful and moving. Then, however, Cobb overloads his story with a torrid love-triangle involving Eldon, his wife Cora, and O.B., and with a wildfire romance between O.B.'s daughter Ellen and SNCC volunteer Paul, which triggers a near-fatal back-alley abortion for Ellen and the abduction of Paul and his fellow-activist by the Klan. Paul escapes, and all credibility is shattered when he hides in O.B.'s house for a month undetected. The sure touch Cobb showed earlier disappears completely in a last-minute flurry of arrests, breakdowns, and deaths. When Cobb is good (his taut confrontations, his quieter moments showing old people sitting around being old), he is very, very good; when he is bad, his writing dissolves into clichÇs. A maddeningly uneven work.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1992
ISBN: 0-688-11366-4
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1992