Magazine article The Christian Century

Grant Park: A Novel

Magazine article The Christian Century

Grant Park: A Novel

Article excerpt

Grant Park: A Novel

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Agate Bolden, 408 pp., $16.00 paperback

It is Tuesday, November 4, 2008: a historic election day. Will America soon have its first African-American president?

In Leonard Pitts's novel, Malcolm Marcus Toussaint is a 60-year-old black newspaper journalist who doesn't think so. Out of patience, out of faith, out of sorts, he has given up "the foolish notion that white people can be redeemed." He is tired of explaining "the same things to white people, year in, year out, over and over again ... and them not listening." He still has enough energy, however, to defy his employer and sneak a furious rant onto the front page of the morning edition--an act that immediately gets both him and his boss fired.

Dwayne McLarty and Clarence Pym, a mismatched pair of white supremacists, don't think Barack Obama will win the presidency either. McLarty, a meth addict, and Pym, a loner with a disfiguring disease, want to take America back from blacks, Jews, Muslims, and gays. Whoever wins the election, they plan to send a wake-up call to white Christian America by bombing the crowd awaiting election returns in Chicago's Grant Park.

The story takes off when McLarty and Pym kidnap Toussaint.

After the paperback edition of Grant Park was published and Donald Trump was elected president, I went to hear Pitts discuss his novel at a public library. "First, I need to be clear about one thing," he said: "I am not Malcolm Toussaint."

But it's easy to see why readers might confuse the two: both are Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American journalists; both have written extensively on race; both can be angry. In fact, Pitts began his library presentation by reading from a recent and clearly angry column: "I have no interest in seeing this country heal" after "the election of a fundamentally unsound, unserious and unfit man," he wrote. He referred to Trump as "a misogynist who brags about sexual assault, a bigot cheered to victory by the Ku Klux Klan."

The good guys in Grant Park are far from perfect, though they sincerely want to make the world a better place. Malcolm, a sanitation worker's son from Memphis, is hot-headed and impatient. In 1968 he was sent home from a prestigious northern university for having painted an obscene slogan on a campus wall. Nonviolent protest was too tame for him: he wanted justice now and was willing to break windows and loot stores to get it. Forty years later, as a celebrated columnist, he downs a few beers and explodes in print.

Malcolm's white boss, Bob Carson, a dentist's son from Minneapolis, is obtuse and disillusioned. In 1968 he considered himself a revolutionary. Though in love with an African-American woman, he repeatedly offended her with his assumptions of white privilege. Forty years later, Bob fears he has become the man he never wanted to be: a racist. …

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