cover image Orange Laughter

Orange Laughter

Leone Ross. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22676-3

In a grim attempt to escape the ""Soul Snatcher,"" Tony Pellar has traded a comfortable apartment with his lover, Marcus, for a life underground in the New York City subway tunnels. In her first novel published in the U.S., Londoner Ross (All the Blood Is Red) combines a postmodern stream-of-consciousness narrative of madness with a devastating tale of real-life racial evil. Tony believes his only salvation lies in recovering his sublimated memories. He writes to his childhood friend Mikey, now Michael Abraham Tennyson, Ph.D., begging for help. The resulting third-person narrative gradually reveals the dark secrets of the past. Tying in Tony's troubled present-day ramblings, the plot pieces together the events that led to Tony's descent into darkness, both physical and mental. During the 1960s, when the civil rights movement is just gathering momentum in Edene, N.C., Tony's surrogate mother, Agatha, serves as an underground railroad conductor for those in serious trouble. Her day job is working for Mikey's grandmother, Miss Ezekiel. Although Tony and Mikey are bonded by their status as orphans and outcasts, their friendship is circumscribed by skin color: Tony is black and Mikey is white. Expertly sharpening tension, Ross saves the most devastating revelations about Tony, Agatha and Mikey's heartrending experiences for the end, gradually shading in the answers to questions about Tony's desperate struggle for sanity. Although the collision of cheerless personal histories with chaotic times leans to melodrama, the finely controlled pacing yields an emotional clout as chilling as the times it evokes. Literate and accomplished, this book seems destined for a small but devoted cadre of lovers of serious contemporary fiction. (Nov.)