An American Story

Debra J. Dickerson, Author Pantheon Books $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-42069-6
HFollowing a controversial 1995 New Republic article about the shooting of her nephew, Dickerson became a popular commentator on race and society in America. In her first book, she again stirs the cauldron with a no-holds barred look at her humble Midwestern beginnings, scrappy clan, career strivings and personal miscues and victories. Rarely does a memoir strip away so much emotional armor to expose so many defects as well as strengths. A lawyer with a Harvard Law School pedigree and journalist with bylines in many leading national publications, Dickerson first turns her unflinching gaze upon her struggling parents, sharecroppers who had migrated to north St. Louis, whom she analyzes in painstaking detail. She admits the brutal psychological effects of her father's iron-fisted rule and life in an inner-city environment, which left her with a growing burden of self-doubt and self-hatred that only subsided upon her entry into the Air Force at age 21. A minor flaw is Dickerson's reluctance to examine her other four siblings with the same razor-sharp scrutiny that she applies to her youngest brother, Bobby, who als0 endured emotional abuse by their father. If Dickerson is ruthless in her appraisal of others, she is twice as hard on her own shortcomings, especially the views about poor and lower-working-class blacks trapped in poverty and despair she held as a young woman. Her display of courage following a rape, along with her gritty determination to excel at Harvard, attests to the complexity and resilience of this chameleon of a woman. This tough, sassy memoir dramatically underscores the importance of hope, family and truth in one person's quest to reach and sustain her version of the American dream. Agent, Ronald Golddfarb. First printing 75,000; 9-city author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-385-72028-1
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