Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trying to Survive in a Cynical World

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Trying to Survive in a Cynical World

Article excerpt

BLACKER THAN A THOUSAND MIDNIGHTS A novel by Susan Straight 400 pages, Hyperion, $21.95

MORE THAN half of black households are headed by single mothers. A black child born today has a one in five chance of growing up with two parents.

The estimates, bleak and wearying, document an obvious problem. But they don't tell you why. Sociological tracts point to joblessness, poverty, educational deficiencies, racism and on and on. But genuine understanding remains beyond our reach.

Susan Straight's second novel helps. Darnell Tucker, 20, is a hard-working, well-intentioned black man who nevertheless is on the verge of abandoning his wife and young daughter. When he's not at war with his own psyche, circumstances - street crime, drugs and poverty in the fictional ghetto town of Rio Seco, Calif. - threaten to swallow him whole.

The reader rattles around in Tucker's head like a marble in a maze full of holes. At times, his mind tilts and twists toward hope that he can find work to nurture his family and his soul. Then it's back down and around toward despair. Never are we far from the abyss.

Darnell has a hard time believing in himself because he is surrounded by failure and cynicism. No role models exist among his friends, who include a burned-out basketball star, a drug runner, a well-to-do but spiritually bankrupt landscaper. His father and father-in-law managed to maintain their dignity and carve out livings for their families, but the struggles left them bitter. They expect only the worst from young blacks like Darnell and find reinforcement with each passing day.

After he gets his girlfriend pregnant, Darnell approaches her father. He wants to do the right thing and marry her even though he's jobless at the time.

The response from his father-in-law-to-be suggests something beyond hopelessness:

"She says you don't drink or smoke. …

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