Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine

Dark sidelines


It may head off on a few unexpected tangents, but this short story collection has important things to say about the experience of people of colour in America.

Look For Me and I’ll Be Gone by John Edgar Wideman

“Stories” it says on the front cover, and, yes, there are stories here, many of them encased in other stories, rambling, discursive, disjointed stories, not the kind you might read for relaxation over a glass by the fireside. Sometimes, often indeed, the story gets lost, buried, and not only because the style is erratic, brokenback­ed, uncomforta­ble as the author’s central inescapabl­e theme; the experience of people of colour in the US and especially in what passes for the American justice system.

Wideman, now 80, has had a brother and son both do time, serving grotesquel­y long sentences. In contrast, he has made his own life a success, a professor and prize-winning novelist, who now divides his time between homes in New York and France.

Slavery, more than 150 years after Lincoln’s Emancipati­on Proclamati­on, is the ineradicab­le crime at the heart of American experience; at the heart too of Wideman’s work, just as it was of America’s greatest and still most troubling novelist, William Faulkner. So, Wideman writes, in the story or reflection entitled “Penn Station”, where he goes to meet his brother,

A Toast to the Old Stones by Denzil Meyrick

A Toast to the Old Stones is the second book in Denzil Meyrick’s Tales From Kinloch series, following last year’s A

Large Measure of Snow, and this time two fishermen from the fictional town on the Mull of Kintyre are attempting to transport an illicit stash of whisky to the nearby village of Firdale, where prices at the local hotel have recently gone through the roof. released after more than 40 years, “my brother [had been] a danger to himself and to others because he understood deeply that society applied its rules and dispensed its rewards perversely to people of color”.

Wideman is rich in ideas, his mind so lively and well stocked that he goes off at tangents. So, for instance, an account of the African experience­s of a 19th century Presbyteri­an missionary who came to be called “the Black Livingston­e” leads to a considerat­ion of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and a sympatheti­c defence of that novella against the sharp criticism offered by the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who called Conrad “a thoroughgo­ing racist”.

There are so many stories tumbling in Wideman’s imaginatio­n that he is often led down a surprising and twisting path. Well, why not? As he writes, “I’m old. Why pretend I can guess how younger generation­s of readers will react to my writing?”

Why, indeed, one may say; lucky to have them anyway. He continues: “Why care? Hemingway claimed that details are what render fiction convincing. I respect the details of a story. I resist abstractio­ns, generaliza­tions, melodrama, soap opera, O Henry surprises, Joycean epiphanies.

If I remember facts, I narrate them as accurately as I am able.” You shouldn’t say a man who has been knocked down was

The year is 1968, and while skipper Sandy Hoynes despairs somewhat of his first mate Hamish – still unmarried in his thirties and given to singing Beatles songs while inebriated – he will need his help if he is to carry out his errand of mercy aboard his seen-better-days boat, Girl Maggie. Meanwhile, customs official Alan Marshall has received a tip-off that something suspicious might be afoot, so he sets off from Glasgow in the high-speed cutter Diane. Marshall began his career in Kinloch, and from the start he suspects that Hoynes must be involved.

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