"Like a lady. That's how I stepped onto that train." So says Dorine
Davis as she rides away from 1920s Jim Crow Alabama; away from
"Mama," who sent her scouring for white folks at eight (with rape
at age ten); away from the baby called "Son," to be raised by
Dorine's sister as her own. And where is Dorine off to instead? To
"a grand place, Harlem. Fabulous! Elegant Avenue, Seventh Avenue."
Strutting lovely, with heels clicking, Dorine embraces the glitter
of black Harlem - its silky swank, its marble lobbies and
intellectual "world-changers." She teams up with a hustler/ dreamer
who soon cheats her and eels away. (Nonetheless, "I dug his
style.") With a family-style gang of "boosters," Dorine pulls off
store heists with class; she's soon rolling in money. But "being
poor and black went so natural together, it made the tightrope of
having goddamn slippery." And, despite the champagne highs,
Dorine's feelings threaten to mess her up: feelings about family
back in Montgomery, about fat little Son (on a visit home, she
finds herself assuming long-gone Mama's role); feelings about
worthy men - like West Indian millionaire Big H. who visits
Washington to help his people. . . and about loud-laughing,
handsome Harry. Dorine gropes for permanence: "Why not? Feelings.
That's what moves me." So Harry and his daughters move in. But
Harry will eventually succumb to madness; white rackets move in;
Dorine serves five years in jail. When she's set free, in the
Forties, Harlem is no longer that place "where we breathed into
each other," with only the ghosts of the big-timers remaining among
the slums, eyeless buildings, junkies and winos. And after a failed
last attempt at Family, an older Dorine is seen rearing up Seventh
Avenue, "once the grandest, damndest avenue," as she snaps out:
"Who the fuck is Martin Luther King?" From a veteran author of
outstanding juveniles: a restless, gritty, earthy narrative which
encompasses flowering and decay - in one woman's life, but also in
the brief blooming of the place-and-people that was Harlem's
heyday. (Kirkus Reviews)
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