The Fisher King

Paule Marshall, Author Scribner Book Company $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-684-87283-4
Forty years after Brown Girls, Brownstones, Marshall's triumphant new novel reminds us why she is one of our premier African-American voices. Readers slowly decipher a two-family drama through the eyes of an engaging eight-year-old boy. In 1940s Brooklyn, well-to-do Florence McCullum takes fierce pride in her elegant home and daughter Cherisse, who has a promising future as a singer and performer. Her best friend and neighbor, Ulene Payne, a widowed West Indian domestic, is as proud of her two sons, Edgar and Everett (Sonny-Rett). She makes great sacrifices to provide Sonny-Rett with piano lessons, but he eventually rejects classical music in favor of jazz. As Sonny-Rett's fame and reputation grow, Cherisse loses focus on her budding career, and with her friend Hattie Carmichael, follows Sonny-Rett to his gigs; soon Hattie handles his business matters and Cherisse becomes his wife. Unwilling to endure their parents' disappointment and American racism, the trio moves to Europe, cutting almost all ties; each family blames the other, and a bitter feud is born. Four decades later, when the novel begins, Edgar, a successful developer, decides to inaugurate the new neighborhood music hall with a memorial concert in his dead brother's honor. He locates Sonny-Rett's grandson and namesake, now living with Hattie in Paris, and flies the two to the U.S. for the occasion. Ulene and Florence quickly become enamored of the bilingual youngster. His innocent presence, coupled with memories stirred by preparations for the concert, lead the surviving family members to reevaluate their relationships, resolve old arguments and keep the feud from poisoning another generation. Marshall writes with verve, clarity and humor, capturing the cadences of black speech while deftly portraying the complexity of family relationships and the social issues that beset black Americans. A surprise twist at the end brings Marshall's finely tuned drama to a satisfying, redemptive close.
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 978-1-58547-074-7
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-684-86970-4
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