From Publishers Weekly
Lewis (In the Arms of Our Elders
) crafts a thoughtful, appealing collection deeply concerned with the pride and pain of African-American heritage. The weight that troubled history brings to bear on the present is most powerfully recognized in the title story, in which a black man meets a white woman in a bar and agrees to drive her to Staunton, Va., where he's headed to care for his dying uncle. It's a fraught encounter haunted by the man's recollection of his uncle's stories about lynchings. "Rossonian Days," which follows a jazz band on its way to a gig in Denver, is a passionate, poetic riff on the evolution of jazz and its place in African-American culture. Lewis also explores more personal histories, as in the exquisite "Shades," in which a 14-year-old boy mingling with the crowd at a blues festival finally lays eyes on the father he has never met. "In a circle of loud men, all holding beer, all howling in laughter... stood a large man in a worn gray suit tugging his tie jokingly like a noose.... I looked at myself in the reflection of [his] mirrored lenses and thought, So this is me
." Though Lewis's plots can be a bit thin and the basic footwork of getting around in a story can feel a little clumsy, the cumulative effect of these 10 pieces is unquestionably powerful.
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Lewis offers 10 short stories that convey the complexity and variety of life in black America with an easy style and sharp character portraits. A single mother, abandoned by her husband 14 years before when he walked out without a word, encounters him at a blues festival. When she points him out to her adolescent son, the boy is confronted with his feelings and the fact that his father hardly notices him. The shifting earth of a swamp near a small town covers and uncovers buried objects and desires. A young black man, accompanied by a white woman, drives into a gas station where white men are loitering and recalls an uncle's stern warning about such situations. A couple is briefly reunited, and each remembers their intense sexual relationship, which couldn't hold the woman's wandering need for something more. Lewis ably captures the subtleties and shifting emotions of everyday life in small towns. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved