Two-time PEN/Faulkner winner offers a new collection that revisits themes that have infused his work for the duration of his career: family, loss, the penal system, Pittsburgh, physical and emotional life, art and memory.
Those who have read the Homewood trilogy, Philadelphia Fire or Brothers and Keepers will find that those books’ ideas continue to haunt Wideman’s work, though he approaches them with a verve only a master of language can command ... Wideman turns forgotten historical figures into memorable characters, reanimating and giving voice to the past to make sense of the present.
... probing, exploratory ... remarkable stylistic range ... Mr. Wideman is one of the great tragedians of American literature ... A sense of existential mystery that transcends time binds together the many and disparate voices the stories assume...[a] technique of blending together elements of ancestry, history, philosophy and literary theory into a somber, incantatory unified whole ... this collection, Mr. Wideman’s artistic consummation, is also the site of his unraveling, and there are moments of unbearable vulnerability when the author puts aside his great gifts to lie down in the rag and bone shop of the heart.
The book’s style is so deceptively modest it stares you down and waits for you to realize it’s cut your heart out while you coasted along on the calm surface of the syntax into a seething indictment of every aspect of society. Wideman’s is the most effective kind of indictment because he does not deploy oversimplified abstractions or blame nameless structural demons for the wrongs of the world. He offers himself and all that he loves as the evidence of things not seen but felt and suffered and overcome. He lets us into his prison, his 'death row,' his lifelong trial, and the bleak turmoil of each anticlimactic verdict ... Wideman’s tone possesses a measured dignity that only a vague but palpable humility bordering on self-loathing corrupts. When he is less strategic and succumbs to a prevailing childlike awe toward his own experience objectified as fiction, it’s just as honorable and considerate of his needs and the reader’s. The cruel balancing act between imagination and reality is the protagonist in these stories; what he decides to remember dictates what he is capable of inventing ... Wideman deftly avoids becoming his own celebrity witness.