Picks and Pans Review: Reuben

updated 11/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by John Edgar Wideman

Absorbing despite its intricacies, Reuben is another tale of Homewood, the black Pittsburgh community that is central to Wide-man's seven novels. This time, however, Homewood is more anchor than setting. The novel focuses on three curious people: Reuben, a humpbacked, rat-faced man whose amateur legal skills make him the "Law" in Homewood; Kwansa Parker, a single mother who needs Reuben's help finding her kidnapped 5-year-old son; and Wally, a college scout who thinks he has literally gotten away with murder. They sustain a plot that seems more like a lyric collage of voices and images than a series of distinct actions. Using thoughts, dreams and memories, Wideman maps out a powerful exploration of injustice—a lost son or a lost self—and the spiritual frustration it causes. Some, like Reuben, work through the hurt; others, like Kwansa, endure. But for Wally, the hurt destroys. Readers already familiar with Wideman's Homewood trilogy (Damballah, Hiding Place and Sent for You Yesterday) will find this book's shift from ominous action to numinous introspection a profound and satisfying challenge (the author's climax still packs a punch). First-time Wideman readers, get cracking. There's a lot of good material here. (Holt, $16.95)

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