From Publishers Weekly
A mother goes to great lengths to defend her son in this slow-going, sentimental domestic tale with a racial spin. On the same night white student Early Smallwood delivers his high schools commencement address, he shoots and kills a young black man in Charlotte, N.C., in 1987. His mother, first-person narrator Kathryne Smallwood, a movie critic for a local magazine and wife to a successful lawyer, Peter, proceeds to recount in exhaustive detail Earlys development from adored, overindulged only child and model pupil to accomplice to his delinquent childhood friend, Chip. Despite Kathrynes anguished self-searching, however, theres no convincing explanation for the valedictorians transformation into a murderer save that Early was in the wrong place in bad company. Poet and novelist Goldman (The Slow Way Back) strives to engage with complex racial questions, but her protagonists moral struggles are one-dimensional and dated as she struggles to reconcile her liberal self-image with her sons act. At novels end, the Smallwoods remain bewildered by the changes around them, with Kathryne still wondering how she ended up "on the wrong side of a race issue." All too convincing as a study in self-delusion, this is too deliberate and uninflected to satisfy as fiction.
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Increasing incidents of school killings and growing numbers of adolescent murderers have spawned a new theme for novelists: the introspective probe into possible societal and familial causes. Goldman's second novel dissects one seemingly perfect family: father Peter, a successful attorney; mother and narrator Kathryne, a movie reviewer; and son Early, valedictorian at his prestigious private school. Early is arrested for murder the morning after graduation. Kathryne begins to scrutinize how she and Peter erred. Was it her fault for being the spoiling parent? Or was Peter the culprit, for withdrawing from parenting? She blames Early's friendship with a dominating underachiever; she blames herself for ignoring the pot in the glove compartment and the beer in the trunk. Or was the murder just a tragic ramification of a drug deal gone awry? Either way, Goldman's brutally honest dramatization of a dysfunctional family makes provocative reading. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved