This beautifully written novel describes the death of Absalom Goodman of brain cancer and takes us into the lives and hearts of his family. The novel is written largely from the perspective of this dying husband of Gwen and father of Sonny and Rainey. In a semi-conscious state, Absalom alternates between memories of the past, psychic connections with his family members, sometimes delirious ruminations and what at times appear to be out of body experiences.

Throughout, one is immersed in a gripping drama of this working class black family and their efforts to overcome terminal illness, racism, poverty, inner city turmoil and the effects of the drug culture. One is caught up in anticipatory grief, identifying with the pain and unresolved questions of Gwen, Sonny and Rainey. The reader is moved by the love, the spirituality, the ultimate defeat of the streets and the continued hopes for the future.


Pate's rich development of characters, poetic narrative and imagery make for spellbinding moments. The reader is introduced to a working class black family much like any working class white family in the world. Yet, the curse of the inner city and the scourge of the black community, drugs, presents an insurmountable obstacle. This novel presents an opportunity for rich dialogue about life's meaning, about the possibility of ever truly overcoming, about how we die, and gives us glimpses into the interior life of a dying man amidst the swirl of everyday life.

Finally, this is a disturbing novel with a provocative tragic ending. The message is about survival, never giving up, never forgetting and giving something back. The price for not doing so is much too high. In the end, Absalom offers up the following wisdom, ?It's a song. It's a struggle to sing it, but it surely is a song. Somehow, we have to make the singing mean something.?


This book received the Minnesota Book Award and was named Best First Novel by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.


Coffee House

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