March 25, 1985 12:00 PM

by Gloria Naylor

Willie and Lester, friends since junior high school, are 20-year-olds without futures. Lester now lives in Linden Hills, a swanky, highly desirable community for blacks. Willie lives close by in near poverty. They both write poetry and they both work odd jobs to earn some money to buy Christmas gifts for their families. Willie sees that the blacks who live in Linden Hills are “afraid to sweat” and “these people can’t seem to find the guts to be honest about anything.” Lester’s overweight sister is the sort who “paid her dues to the civil rights movement by wearing an Afro for six months and enrolling in black history courses in college.” Xavier Donnell, who is in love with her, is a “graduate of the University of Nowhere,” yet knows how to make his way up the ladder at General Motors. This novel, by the author of The Women of Brewster Place, portrays with gritty, realistic details the problems of striving blacks. These concerns are set in a surreal—and pretentious—literary framework. This is a complex, ambitious novel that spans decades and has many characters. It is harsh at times, vague at others. There are scenes of gothic excess (Luther’s wife escapes from their basement with her dead child in her arms). Yet there are many insights, too, comic and otherwise. Naylor, whose writing must make blacks just as uncomfortable as it does whites, is an original, powerful talent. (Ticknor & Fields, $16.95)

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