Picks and Pans Review: Cotton

updated 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Christopher Wilson

[STARS 3]

Cotton, by British novelist Christopher Wilson, begins in 1950s Mississippi, when African-American Leif Cotton is born looking exactly like a blue-eyed, blond white baby, thanks to the meeting of recessive genes. It's not long before Leif gets away from Mississippi and its racial strife and veers straight towards Forrest Gump territory: Over the next 25 years, the mutable narrator changes from Leif to Lee, black to white, and man to woman, naively bumping up against racism, sexism and other timely touchstones. During his meanderings he works in a hospital, does a stint in the Army, finds employment as a nude model and, finally, happens upon true love. "I observe, mostly," he tells one paramour. It's a tricky scenario—the simpleton narrator let loose in a complex world and Wilson's story stumbles over a few Gump-esque aphorisms and a too-cute ending. Most of the time, though, his sense of humor and snappy pacing make this an appealing tale of a bygone America where truly anything can happen.

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