A dark and brooding fugue on the nature of violence, Wideman's latest novel (after The Cattle Killing) again dispenses with conventional narrative development to compose a many-charactered testament to the suffering of people affected by the brutal force of power. Among the people who make cameo appearances are blues singer Bessie Smith, sculptor Alberto Giacometti, jazz musician Thelonious Monk and John Africa, the black revolutionary who led the back-to-Africa movement known as MOVE, and whose Philadelphia settlement was bombed by the police. They are part of the world of the three lost souls who wander sadly through the novel in a fashion by now familiar to readers of Wideman's fiction. Kassima is a widow in mourning for her husband and two sons who died in the streets of Pittsburgh. Soft-spoken, mysterious Robert Jones is the man who is trying to break through the barriers of her long suffering. Martin Mallory is Kassima's tenant, an eccentric photographer whose works depicting the 50-year history of life in the black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia--the two cities of the title--help to heal old wounds and bridge the gap between differences. The first two-time PEN Faulkner award winner, Wideman blends some of his nonfiction themes from Philadelphia Fire and the memoir Fatherlong into the present work. The narrative segues in and out of time and place settings and points of view, often without transition. It is the hypnotic pull of his characters' distinctive monologues, the short, musical sentences flowing with easy vernacular, that bring this story to life. In the end, this dreamlike blend of unsparing realism and charged fantasy carry the reader along to a climaxing vision of cathartic force and clarity. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998 Release date: 09/01/1998 Genre: Fiction
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