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THE GOLDEN PASTURE by Joyce Carol Thomas (Scholastic: $11.95: 136 pp.; age 10 up).

July 06, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

A modern Cherokee woman gives birth to her son in a snow forest, only to have him snatched away by the baby's father, the black man to whom she's unhappily married. She stays hidden, allowing the infant, Carl Lee, to be reared by his dad, the volatile, empty Samuel. The story then skips to the boy's 12th summer where he is tending horses on his grandfather's ranch near Ponca City, Okla. This is as much about Carl Lee's coming of age as it is about resolutions between fathers and sons.

When Carl finds a wild Appaloosa with an injured leg, he cries for him and names him Cloudy, soon riding him and planning to enter a rodeo at summer's end. His friendship with his grandfather, Gray, is a comfort to him particularly because he feels unloved by his dad who is distant and often drunk. As the days drift by, we learn also of the painful gap between Gray and Samuel, wide from years of misunderstandings. Finally, it is the horse and a remarkable coincidence that becomes a catalyst for bringing all three together.

Joyce Carol Thomas is winner of the American Book Award for "Marked by Fire" and considered by some to be one of our foremost black women writers. Where many current novels ("The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, "Corregidora" by Gayl Jones) portray black males as stereotypical brutes, Thomas leads her characters out of that rut. True, Samuel drinks and is abusive, but is also educated enough to write letters to his father and tender enough to rescue a mistreated horse.

Another common theme in fiction by black women is the bitter antagonism between the sexes of which you see only a hint here. Carl Lee's mother--the main female character--remains in the reader's mind although after the first chapter, she never actually returns to the story. In one scene, Carl notices a mysterious apple lady gazing at him. When she starts weeping and her smile turns "inside out" with anger, he puzzles about her long after Samuel has chased her away.

Up until the denouement, everything is believable, in fact wonderfully so, thanks to the author's lyrical prose. At the rodeo, Carl Lee and Cloudy astonish the audience with their act. Fine. But then "a ray of light from the first evening star shower(s) down on them . . . a natural spotlight" displaying them "in radiance" and "sparkles." Suddenly, there is rain and thunder, and in an amazing moment of divine intervention, a bolt of lightning strikes the area. Bullseye. Cloudy's544105837exist, especially since everything leading up to this point has been realistic. The reader can easily understand Carl Lee's triumph without these celestial exclamation points.

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