Winner of the Center for Fiction's 2016 First Novel Prize
The hotly anticipated first novel by lauded playwright and The Wire TV writer Kia Corthron, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter sweeps American history from 1941 to the twenty-first century through the lives of four men--two white brothers from rural Alabama, and two black brothers from small-town Maryland--whose journey culminates in an explosive and devastating encounter between the two families.
On the eve of America's entry into World War II, in a tiny Alabama town, two brothers come of age in the shadow of the local chapter of the Klan, where Randall--a brilliant eighth-grader and the son of a sawmill worker--begins teaching sign language to his eighteen-year-old deaf and uneducated brother B.J. Simultaneously, in small-town Maryland, the sons of a Pullman Porter--gifted six-year-old Eliot and his artistic twelve-year-old brother Dwight--grow up navigating a world expanded both by a visit from civil and labor rights activist A. Philip Randolph and by the legacy of a lynched great-aunt.
The four mature into men, directly confronting the fierce resistance to the early civil rights movement, and are all ultimately uprooted. Corthron's ear for dialogue, honed from years of theater work, brings to life all the major concerns and movements of America's past century through the organic growth of her marginalized characters, and embraces a quiet beauty in their everyday existences.
Sharing a cultural and literary heritage with the work of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, and Edward P. Jones, Kia Corthron's The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a monumental epic deftly bridging the political and the poetic, and wrought by one of America's most recently recognized treasures.
Playwright Corthron's big, open-hearted debut novel has echoes of noted writers from the mid-20th century, which serves as its backdrop: the social conscience of Steinbeck, the epic sweep of Ferber, the narrative quirks of Dos Passos. Reading Corthron's novel adds racial context to the classic works of these earlier writers. The story follows two pairs of brothers: white Randall and B.J., who grow up in rural Alabama; and black Eliot and Dwight, who grow up in small-town Maryland. For all its size, this is a modestly plotted quartet of coming-of-age stories. It begins in 1941, with studious teenage Randall sharing his love of literature and his family history. B.J., who is five years his elder, is deaf, and Randall has become his de facto caretaker. Brilliant Eliot, who's all of six years old, and hard-working Dwight, who's 12, narrate the parallel storyline in counterpointed first-person chapters. Eliot's rackety prose plays nicely off Dwight's crisp, dutiful sentences. The story moves to the late '50s, with all four young men growing up in the thick of the Civil Rights movement. Randall's ambition and B.J.'s condition necessitate a separation, with Randall moving to New York. Eliot goes to law school and Dwight gets a sensible job as a postman. The story then moves to 1993; Eliot and Randall cross paths, as readers suspect they must, and there are consequences for both. Corthron jumps to 2010 for a lengthy epilogue. This huge novel has the intimacy of memoir; Corthron's narrative voice makes it easy for readers to immerse themselves in the book, rarely coming up for air.