A Spoon River complex of subplots and vignettes spills out of five summer days in a Truman-era Pittsburgh ghetto in French's elegiac third novel (after Billy and Holly). French introduces dozens of characters in this relatively short work, some for no more than a few pages. This large cast serves as a backdrop for two slender, essentially unrelated story lines that emerge from the cyclical rhythms and harsh details of back-alley life. Willet Mercer and her boyfriend, Jeremiah Henderson, strike out for New York with a bankroll and a Buick that belonged to a pimp she has murdered, but she insists that they first head for North Carolina to find the child she abandoned years ago. The second story concerns Mack Jack, a saxophone player who fears he has lost his musical ability. French poignantly captures Mack's frustration as he wanders the neighborhood in a stoic daze, trying to get his nerve back. The vignettes are skillfully drawn--whether of a minister who wears his ""preachin suit"" to his job cleaning downtown offices because he ""wants folks to see who he is before he changes into his cleanin clothes,"" or of a rooster doomed one morning by its ""kiss-my-ass-look."" Sometimes the novel's sprawl of anecdote threatens to overwhelm the main plots (and the minor characters are sometimes more vivid than the protagonists), but French's mixture of nostalgia and horror ultimately makes for an evocative work that, alternately brilliant and melodramatic, brims with life. (Aug.) FYI: A paperback edition of French's Vietnam memoir, Patches of Fire, will be published simultaneously by Doubleday.
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998 Release date: 08/01/1998 Genre: Fiction