The Burning

Frank Norwood, Author
Frank Norwood, Author Dial Press $21.95 (293p) ISBN 978-0-385-31380-3
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Untranslated street slang heightens the realism of Norwood's first novel, which focuses on moments of private terror during one night in the lives of ordinary people sucked into an inner-city riot. In an unnamed city, a bitterly sardonic white police veteran and his rookie partner attempt to safely abort an old black man's teetering tightrope walk across a clothesline strung above the heads of his cheering/jeering neighbors. Ignored, then enraged, the cop draws his gun just as the old man falls to his death. The crowd tears the cop apart and torches the police car as the rookie, disabled by an injured ankle, escapes to the suspect safety of an abandoned building. Media coverage spreads fear among the innocent and anarchy among the outraged. People act heroically and villainously at random: a savage gang leader spares a retarded 10-year-old white boy lost in the melee; the boy's beaten father is spirited to a hospital by a distraught black resident. A drug-addicted Vietnam vet hijacks a bus into the area and blows up a gas station, launching the riot into a major war; meanwhile, a 15-year-old black mother clings to her newfound religion and her baby while she talks the ungrateful rookie cop through the horrific night. As Norwood pins Asian merchants, white transients and black officials to the page without apology, blame or excuse, he yields insight into how such an event can come to pass without pretending to provide any answers. Though overwritten in patches, this is a powerful, memorable debut. Major ad/promo; author tour; British, translation, audio, electronic, performance rights: William Morris Agency. (June)
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