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Standing at the Scratch Line: A Novel (Strivers Row) Paperback – January 9, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

King Tremain, the badass central character of Guy Johnson's Standing at the Scratch Line, was born LeRoi and grew up in the swampy Louisiana bayou during the first part of the 20th century. It is only when he serves overseas during World War I, however, that LeRoi comes to appreciate the majesty of his name. As he should: fighting in the front lines with the "colored" 369th, LeRoi earns the title King. King takes his soldier's stance home with him and throughout his life kills whoever gets in his way, be they Italian mobsters or policemen. Not one for morals or rational contemplation, he lives by the code he relays to his army buddies during the war: "I just got two rules: be courageous and don't take no shit!"

In the course of tracking King's life, Standing at the Scratch Line crosses cities and decades--from New York to New Orleans to Oakland, from the teens to the '40s. King becomes a wealthy man, largely thanks to the opportunities presented by Prohibition. Handsome and strapping, he easily wins the heart of a Louisiana farm girl, Serena, who becomes his wife. Unfortunately, their love doesn't last long--even though the marriage does--because of tragedies involving their sons, for which he blames his wife. In King, Guy Johnson offers a character who responds aggressively to his time and place in history. He is a man of menacing proportions, with a justice system all his own. --Katherine Alberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the 30 years this lengthy debut novel spans (1916-1946), much blood is spilt and few lessons learned. The macho misadventures of its larger-than-life protagonist LeRoi Boudreaux Tremain-?aka King?drag the reader from the trenches of WWI to 1940s San Francisco, by way of Harlem and New Orleans. King, who whets his appetite for violence when he takes part in a family feud at the tender age of 14, makes a career as a killing machine and underground entrepreneur. Discovering a taste for shedding blood and a hatred for "American Whites" during combat with the all-black 369th Regiment in the fields of Alsace-Lorraine, King returns home to do battle with the mob, the KKK and law enforcement agents everywhere. Sometimes an avenging angel, sometimes merely an implacable force, King kills as briskly as the hero of a John Woo flick, only without the balletic grace. The glamour of his exploits?in killing, gambling, bootlegging and real estate?dissipates, however, when King's family starts to fall apart. His wife, Serena, undoes him through two illegitimate sons. One, LaValle, is conceived when she sleeps with a white racist sheriff to enable King's escape from captivity; the other, Leroy, is King's child by a New York woman, whose whereabouts Serena discovers but conceals from King. Leroy, left to grow up in an orphanage, causes a "curse" to descend on the family. The book unravels with tragedies of the domestic sort (deaths of relatives, miscarriages, car accidents), which, though cheapened by their frequency and a rather hokey voodoo cast, are somewhat appealing, if only as a break from incessant mayhem. Although Johnson succeeds in dramatizing the forces of prejudice and poverty, is perhaps an impossible task to sustain King's righteous rage, virtually a one-note performance, over so many pages.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Strivers Row
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Villard (January 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375756671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375756672
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be exciting from start to finish. The story starts in Louisiana where "King" Tremain is still a teenager and goes with his favorite uncle on a raid of the hated DuMont property. The situation goes bad and young Tremain has to leave town to avoid certain death. Tremain joins the army and this is just the beginning. His adventures leads the reader through France, Germany, to New York, back to Louisiana, to Oklahoma, again to Louisiana and finally San Fransico. Tremain is a hard, determined man who is a highly skilled fighter who is no stranger to violence and death. However, he does have a strict moral code, and is a staunch believer in family and loyalty. Despite how he is able to evade death and serious harm throughout the book when it comes to dealing with his enemies, the same cannot be said for Tremain's family life. In some ways Tremain's family problems are a result of the way he deals with the his enemies. If you are the type of person who enjoys action adventures, where the hero overcomes all odds to right wrongs, etc. then this book is definitely for you.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By CJ Smith on July 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read lots of fiction by African American writers. Unlike some, I almost put this book back when I read the back jacket and learned Guy Johnson is Maya Angelou's son. The ONLY reason I persisted in buying it is because I'm working hard to read more books authored by African American males. When, in his introduction, Johnson paid homage to his editor, Manie Barron, I said "Aha!" I knew of Barron's dedication to bring more African American males to print. After the first four pages, I concluded both Barron and Johnson had found their mark. My persistence lead me through an exciting book that touched a theme I've never before seen in print. Yes, this is a page-turning action-adventure, but its strongest contribution is its representation of a Black man's struggle for respect. In order for the central character to win, he must employ the same tactics used by America's earliest entrepreneurs. Individuals unfamiliar with America's brutal business tactics or the Black man's struggle to prosper in business and therein leave some kind of legacy for his children, would do well to read a ficton-to-fact story where the central character does not turn the other cheek!
What is significant about Johnson's treatment is that his "I'll hit you back if you hit me," character is a lone voice in the anals of Black American fiction. I've never read a story that describes a Black man who murdered the bad guys and gets away with it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. Brown on December 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book was well worth the time, as it is a long novel. I, too, am in a book club, and we all loved it. Yes the first couple of chapters were a little difficult to get through, just because I'm not into war stories, but even that part grew to be very interesting. By the middle of the book, I felt like I knew King Tremain and if Serena hadn't married him, I would have. It was a very well written story where you actually felt like you were there with the characters. I laughed and cried through this book and have recommended it to everyone. I also just finished the sequel, Echoes of a Distant Summer - another outstanding novel. You must read it, because the story of King and his family is amazing and exciting!
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "mrg2" on January 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If I were black, especially a black male, this book would probably be my all time favorite. Even though I'm white male, I still enjoyed it. Like his protagonist, the author doesn't pull any punches. He even gets in a couple of jabs at Clarence Thomas and Booker T. Washington by naming submissive blacks in the story after them. I've read several of the other reviews and agree with the comments about jeeps and the Red Ball Express being anachronisms (to put it politely), and I also found the easy availability of hand grenades and automatic weapons for the hero's use a bit too convenient. It would certainly make for a good movie, though, with all the explosions and mayhem. While the book isn't for the weak-kneed, I appreciated that the author minimized (usually) the use of foul language and did not resort to gratuitous sexual details to spice up the story. He didn't need to. I recommend the book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, and read through it quickly. It was great to see a strong, Black protagonist, who was willing and able to stand up to racism and brutality. I thought however, that King Tremain's showing up at many critical points in the book, repeatedly saving vulnerable people, or repeatedly destroying his enemies, was a bit too convenient. After a certain amount of reading, one could assume King was going to come out on top or show up at a critical moment. It would make for a great movie certainly.
I also wished the author, Mr. Johnson, or his editors, had been more careful with historical references, as there are a number of historical mistakes in the book. Some examples: there were no jeeps in WW 1, the Red Ball Express was also WW 2. The hand held machine guns mentioned so often as being used by King and his enemies immediately after WW 1 would have been nearly impossible to have as John Thompson's submachine gun was brand new and not widely distributed until later in the 1920's.
All in all, Standing at the Scratch Line is worth reading and is a good writing debut for the author. For those put off by violence, beware this book has a very high body count. It does however offers a slight break from the relentless violence at the end of the book. I look forward to a sequel.
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