Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 25, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

TUMBLING by Diane McKinney-Whetstone (Morrow: $24, 340 pp.). Were the 1940s and 1950s a kind of golden age for African Americans, at least in the North? It hardly seemed that way at the time, but Diane McKinney-Whetstone's warm and intimate first novel about South Philadelphia, like Clarence Major's recent "Dirty Bird Blues," suggests that migrants from Dixie created close-knit communities there that since have frayed.

Herbie, a railroad porter, settles in Philadelphia because that is where black passengers can get off the "Jim Crow cars" and sit wherever they like. His wife, Noon, gang-raped in Florida at age 12 and emotionally frozen, finds solace in church work. Ethel, a jazz singer to whom Herbie turns for the sex he can't get at home, knows she can trust Noon to care for the 5-year-old niece she hasn't time to raise herself.

This girl, Liz, is the same age as Fannie, whom Herbie and Noon found on their doorstep, abandoned as a baby. The two grow up as sisters. Then Fannie, who has second sight, predicts correctly that a road project through their neighborhood masks a plan by powerful real estate interests to evict blacks wholesale. The project splits families and corrupts community leaders, including Liz's lover and the minister who prays for Noon's healing. Meanwhile, Herbie's relationship with Liz has been poisoned by her secret knowledge of his affair with Ethel. Disaster, however, can be overcome by faith and love in McKinney-Whetstone's world. Despite some melodramatic coincidences, "Tumbling" is an accomplished novel, with sharply drawn characters, exuberant prose, plenty of period detail and a wise, forgiving outlook on family life.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|