Perhaps sparked by the tensions in our country over the last several years regarding race relations, Carpenter’s novel is timely and compelling.
Two young men, one bi-racial and the other white, meet in an overnight lockup, thus beginning a shared twenty-year downward spiral into alcoholism and homelessness. LeRoy and Harmon work together, drink together, and brawl together. As Harmon suffers from his final illness, they both bed Edna, a wealthy widow who — out of pity, curiosity, and loneliness — takes them into her vacation home by the river.
Through episodes rendered from multiple shifting points of view, a series of flashbacks, and LeRoy’s adventure stories—this intelligent but uneducated man’s attempts at fantasy writing—the stories of these people and the tragedies that shaped their lives unfold. Their lives steadily unravel at the seams of race, class, and religion, where no one ever quite tells the truth.
This imagery rich novel follows characters Harmon and LeRoy through their deeply flawed life. Harmon, a white man, and LeRoy, a bi-racial man, are best friends. LeRoy, because his skin is dark, grows up discriminated against. One of the most telling scenes that speaks to the reality of the racism of LeRoy’s day, is when LeRoy and his mother stand outside a small church waiting for the service to end. Once it does, his mother approaches the minister and asks if there is room for her son in the church’s Sunday school. Somewhat taken aback, the pastor inquires why she is asking such a question, and she explains that the other church would not allow her son to attend Sunday school, as there was “no room.”
This one scene seems to sum up LeRoy’s struggle throughout the novel. His story is filled with overcoming these barriers. LeRoy’s best friend, Harmon, seems to be a barrier unto himself. Both men’s alcoholism only adds to their brokenness. Their alcoholism, however, is not glamorized. It is ugly and messy, resulting in drunken misbehavior and extreme misfortune.
About the Author
Born and raised in rural Mercer County, PA, James Carpenter made his way through college working various eclectic jobs and, after graduating, taught middle and high school English. He then retrained as a technologist, eventually developing the Erica T. Carter software system that composed the poetry anthologized in the Issue 1 dustup. Erica’s poetry has been published in several dozen literary journals and he’s presented Erica at international conferences, including at the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and the e-poetry 2007 conference in Paris.
Carpenter spent fourteen years as a member of the affiliated faculty of The Wharton School, where he lectured in computer programming, system design, and entrepreneurship before retiring to write fiction. Since then, his writing has appeared in numerous publications including The Chicago Tribune, Fiction International, Fifth Wednesday Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, and Ambit.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.