Picks and Pans Review: Tumbling
Sincere, sentimental and sudsy, this debut novel, set in the '40s and '50s, zeroes in on a black South Philadelphia couple who are struggling to reconcile their individual desires with family obligations. Herbie, a redcap at the train station, lusts after Ethel, the local torch singer billed as "voice of the century." He's married to Noon, a "good churchgoing woman" who desperately wants children but is barren despite the healing prayers of her cherished Reverend Schell.
When Herbie finds a baby girl in a box on their front steps, Noon thanks God and names her Fannie. Some years later, Ethel deposits her young niece Liz on the same steps and hightails it to New York City's Harlem to sing with the big boys. The girls grow into young women as their security is threatened by a plot to demolish the neighborhood's row houses.
The men in Tumbling are transparent and one-dimensional; the women have the secrets and the strengths. They sacrifice for their children and rail against the power of the system. McKinney-Whetstone's first effort showcases her ear for dialogue, but the revelations are a little too fuzzy and the redemptions too easy for this novel to have profound impact. (Morrow, $24)