White Boys

Reginald McKnight, Author Henry Holt & Company $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4829-2
McKnight is an award-winning writer whose work (including I Get on the Bus and The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas) comes at the perpetually vexed question of relations between the races from fascinatingly oblique angles. The stories in this collection all share a sense of free-flowing disquiet, of life severely askew, of blacks and whites trying to redefine their feelings about each other and usually failing. In ""He Sleeps,"" the narrator, an American doing ethnographic research in Senegal, finds himself perplexed by his relationship with a local youth who has befriended him and by his suddenly rampant anxiety dreams about the French family with whom he shares his quarters. In ""Palm Wine,"" the same narrator, in search of an authentic African experience he has learned of from an admired novel, gets in over his head with a mockingly resentful group of locals. ""Boot"" is a comic, rueful look at an uneasy relationship between a bright black Buddhist Marine recruit and a hard-assed white drill instructor. The title story, the longest and most ambitious of the book, tells of two families, one black and one white, on an Army base in Louisiana and the ways in which they grow to mirror each other's expectations; the plotting is a little contrived, but it brings an undeniably powerful windup. McKnight's writing throughout has virtuosity to spare, interspersing uncannily accurate dialogue with flashes of surreal menace. These are thoughtful tales that explore with care areas into which most writers never venture. Rights: Christina Ward. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Paperback - 214 pages - 978-0-8050-6171-0
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