LOSING ABSALOM by Alexs D. Pate (Coffee House Press: $19.95; 256 pp.) Absalom is dying. His body lies in a hospital bed while his spirit roams restlessly through time and space spending time with his wife, Gwen, and kids. Sonny, the oldest, left the North Philadelphia ghetto where he was raised, to make his fortune in white-bread Minneapolis, while Absalom's daughter, Rainy, has stayed behind living with a drug dealer and, "searching through the rubble of her reality for some magic that would save her."
"Losing Absalom" is a novel about struggle. On an individual level each character is fighting to find out exactly who they are and how they fit in the world, while on a deeper level they symbolize all African-American people fighting to find the same thing.
Alexs Pate is clearly a talented writer with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. At times, however, "Losing Absalom" lacks subtlety--especially in the dialogue. Everyone always seems to say exactly what they mean, which saps a great deal of power and complexity from what might otherwise be effective scenes. Another difficult aspect of Pate's writing is a disconcerting sort of physical description, such as Rainy's reaction to an unwelcome guest: "Rainy's heart exploded, blood stained the inside of her body . . . The man stood in front of her. 'Is this where I can find Dancer?' 'Who are you?' Rainy felt her knees breaking. The center of her body was dropping." Images like that tend to distract instead of enhance. In spite of problems, though, "Losing Absalom" has some real strength. It will be interesting to see what Alexs Pate does next.