This is the Great American Novel that nobody is reading, an oversight I blame on some combination of the clunky title, the abstract cover art, and the 800-page count. The book centers on two white brothers growing up in 1940s Alabama, and two black brothers growing up in Maryland at the same time, all of whose paths will cross. I was amazed at Corthon’s character-building, wit, and insight. Like all great literature, The Castle Cross inspires you, while also making you want to curl up in a warm hole and never leave to face the world’s ugliness. Recommended By Candice B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Winner of the Center for Fiction's 2016 First Novel Prize
The hotly anticipated first novel by lauded playwright and The Wire TV writer Kia Corthron, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter sweeps American history from 1941 to the 21st century through the lives of four men — two white brothers from rural Alabama, and two black brothers from small-town Maryland — whose journey culminates in an explosive and devastating encounter between the two families.
On the eve of America's entry into World War II, in a tiny Alabama town, two brothers come of age in the shadow of the local chapter of the Klan, where Randall — a brilliant eighth-grader and the son of a sawmill worker — begins teaching sign language to his 18-year-old deaf and uneducated brother B. J. Simultaneously, in small-town Maryland, the sons of a Pullman Porter — gifted six-year-old Eliot and his artistic12-year-old brother Dwight — grow up navigating a world expanded both by a visit from civil and labor rights activist A. Philip Randolph and by the legacy of a lynched great-aunt.
The four mature into men, directly confronting the fierce resistance to the early civil rights movement, and are all ultimately uprooted. Corthron's ear for dialogue, honed from years of theater work, brings to life all the major concerns and movements of America's past century through the organic growth of her marginalized characters, and embraces a quiet beauty in their everyday existences.
Sharing a cultural and literary heritage with the work of Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, and Edward P. Jones, Kia Corthron's The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a monumental epic deftly bridging the political and the poetic, and wrought by one of America's most recently recognized treasures.
“This big, ambitious, challenging novel should have gotten much more attention. It tells the 20th-century history of the United States through the intersecting lives of two white brothers and two black brothers. It is, by turns, tender, brutal and redemptive.” Viet Thanh Nguyen, New York Times Book Review: By the Book, 30 January 2017
“Kia Corthron’s first novel is a stunning achievement by any measure — a riveting saga of two 20th-century American families trapped inside the quotidian contradictions and compulsions of race, disability, and sexuality. The untidiness of history is conveyed through experiences, dreams, and inevitable eruptions of violence, yet also unexpected patterns of escape and possible orbits of justice.” Angela Y. Davis, UC Santa Cruz
“There are whole chunks of writing here that are simply sublime, places in which one gets swept away by the way she subverts the rhythm of language to illuminate the familiar and allow it to be seen fresh...[Corthron] blindsides you. She sneaks up from behind. Sometimes, it is with moments of humor, but more often with moments of raw emotional power — moments whose pathos feels hard-earned and true...[The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter] succeeds admirably in a novel's first and most difficult task: It makes you give a damn. It also does well by a novel's second task: It sends you away pondering what it has to say.” Leonard Fitts Jr., The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)
About the Author
The author of more than 15 plays produced nationally and internationally, Kia Corthron came to national attention in the early '90s with her play Come Down Burning. Portraying characters who live in extreme poverty or crisis and whose lives are otherwise invisible, her plays paint a disturbing picture of American history and its repercussions on our most intimate relationships. Corthron's most recent awards include a Windham Campbell Prize for Drama, the Simon Great Plains Playwright (Honored Playwright) Award, the USA Jane Addams Fellowship Award, and the Lee Reynolds Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women, and she has developed work through various international residencies. She has also written for television, receiving a Writers Guild Outstanding Drama Series Award and an Edgar Award for The Wire. She grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, and now lives in Harlem, New York City.