cover image Sugar Street

Sugar Street

Jonathan Dee. Grove, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6000-3

Dee returns 11 years after his Pulitzer finalist The Privileges with an energetic character study of a white man determined to escape from his life. It starts with a burst of electric first-person action, as the unnamed narrator drives on back roads across the country, keeping off the interstate to avoid cameras, with $168,048 in cash. The narrator dishes an acerbic perspective on the passing roadside (“unzoned hellscapes in which every fast-food restaurant on earth operates a franchise side by side”) and his aversion to surveillance belies a vague paranoia. He rents an unlisted room in a small unspecified city from Autumn, a healthcare worker and heavy drinker. There, his self-imposed isolation proves easier in theory than practice. After a child named Abiha accidentally drops her notebook outside Autumn’s house on her way to school, the narrator returns it. The satisfaction of helping Abiha, whom he describes as a “person of color,” whets his appetite for more acts of anonymous charity with his surplus of cash. Before long, he arouses suspicions from Autumn, the neighborhood children, and the police, setting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. Though a bit slim, Dee’s work grapples intriguingly with the narrator’s liberal myopia. It stands as a showcase of Dee’s masterly prose. (Sept.)