cover image The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter

The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter

Kia Corthron. Seven Stories, $32 (800p) ISBN 978-1-60980-657-6

Playwright Corthron's big, open-hearted debut novel has echoes of noted writers from the mid-20th century, which serves as its backdrop: the social conscience of Steinbeck, the epic sweep of Ferber, the narrative quirks of Dos Passos. Reading Corthron's novel adds racial context to the classic works of these earlier writers. The story follows two pairs of brothers: white Randall and B.J., who grow up in rural Alabama; and black Eliot and Dwight, who grow up in small-town Maryland. For all its size, this is a modestly plotted quartet of coming-of-age stories. It begins in 1941, with studious teenage Randall sharing his love of literature and his family history. B.J., who is five years his elder, is deaf, and Randall has become his de facto caretaker. Brilliant Eliot, who's all of six years old, and hard-working Dwight, who's 12, narrate the parallel storyline in counterpointed first-person chapters. Eliot's rackety prose plays nicely off Dwight's crisp, dutiful sentences. The story moves to the late '50s, with all four young men growing up in the thick of the Civil Rights movement. Randall's ambition and B.J.'s condition necessitate a separation, with B.J. moving to New York. Eliot goes to law school and Dwight gets a sensible job as a postman. The story then moves to 1983; Eliot and Randall cross paths, as readers suspect they must, and there are consequences for both. Corthron jumps to 2010 for a lengthy epilogue. This huge novel has the intimacy of memoir; Corthron's narrative voice makes it easy for readers to immerse themselves in the book, rarely coming up for air. (Jan.)