Lewis’s second collection (after In the Arms of Our Elders, 1995) ranges in setting from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Denver, showing him a storyteller with a superb sense of place.
“Shades,” about a boy who catches his first glimpse of his father at 14 on the streets of his Tennessee hometown, is remarkable equally for its portrait of the boy’s mother as for his sketch of the man who left the morning the boy was conceived. “Kudzu,” about a chilly encounter with a once earthy lover, and “In the Swamp,” about a man who takes his fiancée back to his hometown for the funeral of a man who briefly filled the role of a father in his life, are also Tennessee-set, using the land as an effective backdrop to a young man’s growth. “For the Brothers Who Ain’t Here” is named for the libation someone always poured on the sidewalk when beers were opened on the stoop in Bed-Stuy—for those “shot over two six packs,” “up at Attica for ten,” or “left for college and never came back.” The piece is about a deception that leads to an innocent man getting fiercely beaten, even though “Nothing was supposed to happen.” The title story is a masterpiece of nuance, combining a sexually charged narrative with a meditation on historic lynchings. Clive, a history professor, picks up a flirtatious white woman at a bar in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and agrees to drive her to Staunton, where he’s headed to visit his revered but ailing uncle Izelle. Observing the attention paid to his new “friend” by a group of white men at a gas station, Clive lingers at the Coke machine, “thinking of Bayard Rustin, snuck out of Montgomery in the trunk of a car.” As the trip continues, he thinks back to tales he’s heard from Izelle over the years, including what happened to the Scottsboro boys when “a White girl was in the mix.”
Evocative stories with a potent kick.