Picks and Pans Review: Brothers and Sisters

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Bebe Moore Campbell

Esther Jackson, the black regional operations manager at Angel City Bank, is confused, conflicted and contrary. She knows what she wants but not how to get it. She wants to become a loan officer but can't find a mentor among the white men (and one woman) already in that department. She wants a man, but her mercenary motto, "no romance without finance," complicates her search. Most of all, though, Esther wants to believe that neither the racial prejudice nor the class differences she encounters at the bank—and society at large—will prevent her from achieving her goals.

But by choosing to set this ambitious, uneven novel in Los Angeles during the months following the 1992 riots, Campbell, author of the 1992 novel Your Blues Ain't Like Mine and a regular guest on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, makes the story even more complex. An ambitious professional, Esther puts faith in her credentials but is seldom respected by her white peers. Enter Mallory, the white female loan officer. She's ditzy, has man troubles and is belittled enough by the bank's male loan officers to need a friend. She turns to Esther. On their tentative relationship—the conflict between ingrained prejudice and newfound trust—the author tries to build her novel.

The result is a tale long on issues and short on action. Multiple plotlines about the bank's response to social pressures, a wan embezzlement scheme and Esther's staid romantic adventures fill hundreds of pages while adding up to not much. In the end, Campbell grapples courageously with an America ambivalent about race but gives us neither people we can admire nor ideals we can emulate. (Putnam, $22.95)

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