cover image The Measured Man

The Measured Man

Howard Owen. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018654-8

In a fit of pique over a blown softball game, Walker Fann, publisher of a small North Carolina newspaper, tosses aside his cherished baseball glove, only to cry theft when he sees a black youth running away with it. The kid turns out to be Carneal Justus, 13, the son of Raymond Justus, with whom Walker shared a high-school championship football season. At Raymond's insistence, Carneal must work off his alleged misdeed by doing yardwork for the Fanns. Walker's involuntary penance involves listening to his boyhood friend detail the difficult path his life has taken since their moment of youthful triumph. Meanwhile, a referendum on whether to fund a proposed local slavery museum exacerbates racial tensions in the community, which is half black, half white, and presents Walker with a moral dilemma as he must decide what position the newspaper should take. ""Isn't there anything I can do to make it right?"" Walker asks Raymond, a question that reverberates throughout this dead-on indictment of the damning effects of selective justice and selective charity. Owen's (Littlejohn) achievement here is in provoking without soapboxing. He invites readers to hold up a yardstick to their own lives to calculate how far their adult behavior has strayed from the idealism of their youth. (Feb.)