After the Garden

Doris Jean Austin, Author
Doris Jean Austin, Author Dutton Books $17.95 (324p) ISBN 978-0-453-00538-8
Reviewed on: 06/26/1987
Release date: 07/01/1987
That Elzina Tompkins is dear to the author who created her is clear from the moment we come across her sitting in church next to her excruciatingly proper grandmother, both from a Southern black family vividly evoked in this first novel. But Elzina becomes pregnant at 14, her careful upbringing no match for the allure of Jesse James, the best athlete in high school, whom Elzina takes home to live in Grandma's house. Feeling like a kept man and unable to wheedle a nickel out of Grandma to go into business for himself, he gets involved in a robbery. Although innocent, he is jailed and Elzina is left alone to bring up their son Charles and to earn a living as well. With Jesse's release, the plot thickens: there is an accidental killing and other tragedies; yet Elzina comes though a survivor. Using the authentic cadences of black speech, Austin conveys their voices convincingly. Unfortunately, although all the characters, notably Elzina, are strong and appealing, the story line is too heavy for them to carry gracefully. Yet Austin's fiction debut has many virtues, not the least of which is the exuberant life pervading it. (July 24)
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