cover image Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Vinson Cunningham. Hogarth, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-59344-823-6

New Yorker staff writer Cunningham debuts with a sophisticated bildungsroman that draws on his work for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. His narrator, David, is a Black man in his early 20s, adrift in Chicago and searching for role models, having neglected his early academic promise after unexpectedly becoming a father and subsequently flunking out of college. Beverly, a leading Black businesswoman whose middle-schooler son David tutors in English and math, connects him with the campaign of an Obama-like politician known only as “the Senator.” David keenly longs for something to believe in, but despite his brushes on the campaign trail with Cornel West and other leading Black figures, his work mainly consists of selling tickets to fund-raising dinners and arranging staged meetings between the Senator and voters. The political plot is secondary—readers know the campaign will, like Obama’s, follow a victorious arc—freeing Cunningham to shine in David’s recollections of his upbringing in a Pentecostal church run by a charismatic pastor who bears some resemblance to the Senator. More than a chronicle of idealism and disillusionment, this is an extended exploration of the power and limits of believing in something bigger than oneself. Cunningham’s remarkable first novel matches the scale of its namesake. (Mar.)