Friday, August 7, 2009

Review: Black Water Rising

Why didn't Professor Gates just politely thank the cop for checking out what a neighbor feared was an attempted burglary? If you're white and that question has crossed your mind, you may learn a lot from Black Water Rising.

Whatever your skin tone, if you like a thriller that goes beyond the requisite car chases and explores human passions, motivations, fears, and convictions, Attica Locke's debut novel belongs on top of your nightstand stack.

In 1981, Jay Porter is a young, intelligent, but not very successful African-American lawyer in Houston, Texas. A chance encounter plunges him into a murky world of politics, unions, and big business--and reignites old terrors left over from his student-activist days in the late 60s and early 70s. Is his life in danger? Or is he paranoid?

Locke, a screenwriter, knows how to write action scenes. She also writes well, though sparingly--this is a thriller, after all--about relationships. Jay's wife is seriously pregnant, and wondering what in the heck is going on with her taciturn husband.
"You got to stop this, Jay.... You can't grab a gun every time the phone rings," she says. "I can't have this around my kid, Jay." Then, a whisper, "I won't."

"Don't start that now."

"You're not right, Jay."

He stands in the middle of the room, eyes on his shoes.

Bernie looks up at her husband, her voice halting. "You're not ... right."
Read Locke's description of why she--a woman in her mid 30s who, though African-American, grew up in a nearly all-white environment--wanted to tell Jay's story.

Read the fine New York Times review by Janet Maslin, "What's Black and White and Muddied? A Byzantine Houston Case."

Read Black Water Rising. I'll be returning it to the library in about ten minutes, but you'll have to put a hold on it--there's a short waiting list.

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