A richly textured, character-driven story that revolves around the modest, yet captivating title character.
This novel is that rare treat of a story that only grudgingly reveals its secrets, forcing the reader to dig deep to understand the characters and their motivations. The opening chapter begins with a black man rising from bed, with no apparent indication of time or place–-Littlejohn slowly offers a few clues: the man is referred to as a Negro, he uses a chamber pot, and he shaves with a razor strop. But who is this man really, and why does he use his razor to inflict deep cuts across his arms? Superb description–-vivid portraits of the man's old house, his meager possessions, and the dusty road on which he travels-–piques interest and raises the question of the man's connection to the title character. The narrative then shifts abruptly to a family in Pineville, North Carolina, where young Billy Smithson lies in bed and ponders the fate of his ailing father Sonny. Littlejohn gradually introduces the Smithson family one character at a time, sticking to the same rich pattern that lends the book its gravitas throughout. Despite a rather large cast of characters, handled quite nimbly here, the author neatly constructs a deliberate plot that will eventually knit the characters together. He finally peels back the narrative enough to reveal the North Carolina setting as being in a time when the word "nigger" was common parlance. Billy Smithson eventually meets the titular character, a multifaceted man who establishes himself as the point around which the other characters revolve. Calvin is a kind, humble man, possessed of a graceful magnetism that draws the other characters, and the reader, toward him, and Littlejohn augments the strong characterization with powerful, evocative dialogue, until the full story emerges. The crackling imagery, the interaction between characters, and the shifting moods of the narrative all meld together to create a sweet lingering for the reader.
A slowly unfolding plot allows time for the characters and milieu to establish themselves. Solid stuff, and publication-worthy.