The author of the bestselling memoir Makes Me Wanna Holler presents a profound debut novel -- in the tradition of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities and Zadie Smith's White Teeth -- that captures the dynamics of class and race in today's urban integrated communities.
Nathan McCall's novel, Them, tells a compelling story set in a downtown Atlanta neighborhood known for its main street, Auburn Avenue, which once was regarded as the "richest Negro street in the world."
The story centers around Barlowe Reed, a single, forty-something African American who rents a ramshackle house on Randolph Street, just a stone's throw from the historic birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Barlowe, who works as a printer, otherwise passes the time reading and hanging out with other men at the corner store. He shares his home and loner existence with a streetwise, twentysomething nephew who is struggling to get his troubled life back on track.
When Sean and Sandy Gilmore, a young white couple, move in next door, Barlowe and Sandy develop a reluctant, complex friendship as they hold probing -- often frustrating -- conversations over the backyard fence.
Members of both households, and their neighbors as well, try to go about their business, tending to their homes and jobs. However, fear and suspicion build -- and clashes ensue -- with each passing day, as more and more new whites move in and make changes and once familiar people and places disappear.
Using a blend of superbly developed characters in a story that captures the essence of this country's struggles with the unsettling realities of gentrification, McCall has produced a truly great American novel.
The embattled characters who people McCall's trenchant, slyly humorous debut novel (following the 1994 memoir Makes Me Wanna Holler and a 1997 essay collection) can't escape gentrification, whether as victim or perpetrator. As he turns 40, Barlowe Reed, who is black, moves to buy the home he's long rented in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. His timing is bad: whites have taken note of the cheap, rehab-ready houses in the historically black neighborhood and, as Barlowe's elderly neighbor says to him, "They comin." Skyrocketing housing prices and the new neighbors' presumptuousness anger Barlowe, whose 20-something nephew is staying with him, and other longtime residents, who feel invaded and threatened. Battle lines are drawn, but when a white couple moves in next door to Barlowe, the results are surprising. Masterfully orchestrated and deeply disturbing illustrations of the depth of the racial divide play out behind the scrim of Barlowe's awkward attempts to have conversations in public with new white neighbor Sandy. McCall also beautifully weaves in the decades-long local struggle over King's legacy, including the moment when a candidate for King's church's open pulpit is rejected for "linguistic lapses... unbefitting of the crisp doctoral eloquence of Martin Luther King." McCall nails such details again and again, and the results, if less than hopeful, are poignant and grimly funny.
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Deeply convicting, gut-wrenchingly raw painting about a clash of two veiled lifestyles, truths. A must-read, especially for teachers working with at-risk, inner-city, or any type of underprivileged kids. And aren't they all pretty much that way these days?