Clarence Olgibee by Alan S Kessler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mrs. Olgibee has seen what it means to be no-account, and as a black mother, she is determined that category will never be applied to Clarence. Unfortunately her loveless discipline backfires, and Clarence trades his dream of medical school and jazz piano for the physical attractions of a light-skinned girl whose universe revolves only around herself. Clarence’s friend, Todd, is the only white boy at school. His ultra-liberal family sacrificed a Manhattan apartment for the spiritual joy of being the only white family in the black neighborhood. After Todd’s father commits suicide, a white supremacist lures the boy into his clutches and programs him to hate and kill. Meanwhile, Clarence knocks-up conceited Gwen, and while in an odd state of denial, joins the Navy to escape the burdens of fatherhood, earning his mother’s excommunication. Space limits comments on all the characters. Additionally we have an idiot savant, an inbred hick, numerous racists killers, a Filipina freedom fighter and an alcoholic, probably syphilitic, philanthropist who rescues animals, and people, only to let them wither and die. After all that there is still a cast too numerous to mention.
Clarence Olgibee is long convoluted story that deals frankly with racism and the disenfranchisement of minorities in the early fifties. It shines light on the neighborhood covenants prohibiting property sales to non-whites. It confronts tacit and overt segregation, and racial violence. Allen Kessler’s prose is elegant and descriptive, and his characters are wonderfully developed with unique voices. The downside is length. In the opinion of this reader, some of the scenes, well done though they are, do not add to the story. However, if you read for the glory of words, Clarence Olgibee is for you.
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