Twelve Gates to the City

Daniel Black, Author
Daniel Black. St. Martin’s, $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-58268-5
Reviewed on: 10/10/2011
Release date: 12/06/2011
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4299-8993-0
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-250-01361-3
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After years away, an alienated, conflicted Tommy Lee “TL” Tyson returns to rural Arkansas with a Ph.D. in black studies to deal with the conflict of his roots and the deep dysfunction of his family. In Black’s second novel, set a week after his debut, They Tell Me of a Home, the author lurches unsteadily between TL’s attempt to discover how his younger sister died, his troubled relationship with his parents, his struggles with his sexuality, and the challenge of reintegrating into a small town. The rural rhythms of the characters’ speech, particularly in church scenes, are fun, but those resonant moments are often overshadowed by heavy-handed sentences like “‘I can’t believe I did this,’ he repeated. ‘How in the world am I going to live in Swamp Creek again?’” While many characters are thinly sketched, elements of magical realism (the narrator, à la The Lovely Bones, is dead) mixed with black folkloric tradition are described with conviction and passion. Black’s personal connection to the material gives a hard-won reconciliation genuine emotional impact, but his ambition (Black overstuffs this novel with fragments of memoir, religious celebration, and a manifesto of racial uplift) tangles the story he badly wants to tell. (Dec.)
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