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After:by Marita Golden
Synopses & Reviews
For twelve years Carson Blake inhabited a world of his own creation. Scorned by the father who was incapable of showing him affection and nearly consumed by the mean streets of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Carson did what no one else could: he saved himself.
After joining the police force and building a family with his wife, Bunny, Carson is finally in control of his life in the enclave where African American wealth and privilege shares the same zip code with black American crime and tragedy. Both Carson and his wife have great careers and three beautiful children: Roslyn, Roseanne, and Juwan. Carson is a devoted father, determined not to be the father that Jimmy Blake was to him. But while Juwan’s astounding artistic talent is his father’s pride, the boy’s close relationship with classmate Will conjures up emotions and questions in Carson that threaten to spill over and poison the entire Blake family.
And then, one night in March, nearing the end of a routine shift, Carson stops a young black man for speeding. He orders Paul Houston to exit the car and drop to his knees. But when Houston retrieves something from his waistband and turns to face Carson, three shots are fired, one man loses his life and two families are wrenched from everything that came before and hurled into the haunting future of everything that will come after. When it is revealed that Paul, a son of educators and a teacher in Southeast D.C., was only holding a cell phone, Carson’s carefully woven world begins to unravel.
After is a penetrating work of discovery for a man whose life careens more than once off the edge of disaster. Golden’s astounding prose will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
"The author of half a dozen books on race, both fiction and nonfiction, Golden tackles the subject from a different perspective in her latest novel about a black policeman who kills an innocent young black man. Thinking the driver he just pulled over is reaching for a gun, Maryland police officer Carson Blake shoots first. But what Carson thought was a gun turns out to be a cellphone. Carson; his wife, Bunny; and their three children struggle through the aftermath as Golden explores the baggage that comes with the badge for a black family man. The story has potential, but Golden's flat prose and bloodless dialogue drain it. She does offer some studied insight into a fraught dynamic, but the novel as a whole is standard and sentimental." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"As the title implies, Marita Golden's new novel, 'After,' concerns the effects of a seminal event: Carson Blake, a black police officer, mistakenly shoots a 25-year-old black school teacher, the son of university professors. The novel wastes little time getting to that event; the first sentence explodes with it. Thereafter, Golden, who is best known for her nonfiction narratives exploring racial identity,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) including 'Migrations of the Heart' and 'Don't Play in the Sun,' ably walks the line between predictable morality tale and compelling personal journey. Prior to the shooting, Carson is entrenched in the routines of middle class life: work, family and home. Work is the problem. A veteran police officer in suburban D.C., he laments the 'aimless, directionless' congregations of black youths, who 'can turn any place into a ghetto.' At a recent shooting, he finds a young black male 'dressed in spanking new jeans, two-hundred-dollar Air Jordans, and a Phat Farm sweatshirt ... dead.' Golden's spare, poetic prose, in the present tense, shows Carson patroling with rising frustration: 'God damn, my people, my people,' he thinks, 'envisioning the future of the race in every act and every choice these young men make.' He has tried to talk to them, 'but he might as well be speaking Mandarin.' By himself, Carson is compelling and believable, particularly for his shortcomings, which are enacted without the kind of authorial judgment that would undermine the narrative. Golden skillfully weaves past and present together, effectively expressing her main character's internal battle. But Carson isn't by himself in this story, and therein lies some difficulty. The pivotal incident occurs around midnight, at the end of Carson's shift, when a black Nissan speeds past with its lights off. The driver fails to pull over initially and appears, to Carson at least, to be evading arrest. When the car finally does stop, Carson draws his gun and orders the man to kneel. Events unfold with a dreadful inevitability: 'Carson begins to approach the kneeling man when he sees him drop his left hand and reach inside his waistband. ... The quick, small movement chills the night and freezes Carson's blood.' The driver turns and rises swiftly, reaching toward him with something, a gun perhaps. In a pulsing moment of fear and desperation, Carson shoots. The man and the cell phone he was holding drop to the pavement. Carson's mind swirls with hallucinatory horror, his question looming over the body of Paul Houston: 'Why didn't you just do what I said?' For two-thirds of the novel, we are left to guess at the answer. By the time we find out, the explanation seems insufficient. Not Houston's rattled state of mind over personal troubles, not even the possibility that the phone started vibrating to signal an incoming call seems to account for his inability to recognize the gravity of the moment: A cop with a loaded weapon was yelling at him. Houston's actions, while necessary for the story, signal the primary challenge of Golden's subject: For Carson to feel the guilt that forces him to change, Houston must be innocent, but to maintain sympathy for Carson, Houston must reasonably appear to be guilty. Trying to maintain these two positions creates the novel's fundamental weakness. Perhaps for this reason, Golden keeps us in Carson's mind, as if Houston's actions don't really matter. We feel the cop is misunderstood, convicted in the minds of most of his friends, to some degree by his own family, and most of all, by himself. The legal realities are no consolation: Administrative leave isolates him; his union lawyer is interested only in saving Carson's job, not finding the truth; and only Carson's street-hardened colleagues offer any understanding; yet their approval is suspicious at best. Carson must fight the terrible inertia to become like them — cynical, uncaring, a danger to public safety. Only through therapy does Golden reveal the underlying causes of his self-loathing, a device that is realistic but lacks drama and leads to a somewhat tidy resolution. Carson's wife, driven by her need to protect her family, wields psychological insights with uncanny precision, and Carson's recognition of his own prejudices, particularly relating to his son's ambiguous sexuality, gives an uneasy sense of moral and political contrivance. Yet for all these difficulties, Carson redeems not only himself, but the novel, too. Despite missteps with secondary characters and a case-study kind of plotting, there's no denying Golden's empathy for her main character and her willingness to push him into dark places of self-recrimination. As an angry, ever more hardening cop, Carson can and must change. While there is little surprise in the purposeful resolution of the story, the understated humility inherent in his personal evolution is hard to dismiss, if only for its fundamental rightness. David Masiel is the author, most recently, of 'The Western Limit of the World.'" Reviewed by David Masiel, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Police officer Carson Pierce is cocky and confident and, he believes, untouchable, until the night he pulls over a young man for driving his Lexus without headlights. A brief scuffle leaves the son of an affluent black family dead, his hand holding the cell phone Pierce assumed was a gun.
With a surgeon’s precision, Marita Golden gets inside the mind of a man caught in a nightmare. She traces his descent through a maze of self-recrimination and shame; his bouts of drinking; the humiliation he suffers when his wife and children leave him; and his alienation from his colleagues. As Pierce struggles to put his life back together, Golden creates rich and telling portraits of his family: his devoted wife, Bunny, who watched as years of wearing the “suit”—the phrase she uses to describe her husband’s uniform—changed the man she married; his estranged father; and his son, Juwan, whose uneasy relationship with his father grows more difficult as Juwan accepts his identity as a gay teen.
Marita Golden is known for taking on controversial subjects and uncovering hidden truths. In AFTER, she brings to life the tensions between black policemen and the black community and paints a searing yet compassionate picture of how a man and his family face—and recover from—a life-altering mistake.
When a police officer pulls over a young man for driving without his headlights on, he mistakes the man's cellphone for a gun and fatally shoots him. The officer descends through a maze of self-recrimination and shame; his wife and children leave him; and he struggles to put his life back together after the life-altering mistake.
About the Author
MARITA GOLDEN is the author of works of both fiction and nonfiction. Her books include Migrations of the Heart, Saving Our Sons, and most recently, Dont Play in the Sun. She is the founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, an organization that supports African American writers. She lives in Mitchellville, Maryland.
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