|Joel Rosenberg: Home Front|
(Hardcover), ISBN: 0-765-30498-8
Nowadays, middle-aged, crankily divorced freelance copy-editor Ernest "Call me Sparky" Hemingway lives in the small North Dakota town of Hardwood. Out of the blue he gets a phone call from Tenishia, the teenaged daughter of his war buddy "Prez" Washington. A Minneapolis gang killed her father, and he once firmly instructed her that, if anything like this happened, she was to contact one of the other three old comrades. Now the gang that killed Prez is after Tenishia too.
Despite himself, Sparky is dragged in. As a first measure he brings Tenishia home to Hardwood, but the gang that killed Prez won't let her go so easily. All three surviving buddies reunite to face up to the Minneapolis gangbangers and solve her little difficulty.
The telling of this somewhat lightweight tale is appropriately light-hearted, but Rosenberg runs into difficulties with this style. The flipness too often grates. The jocularities and observations on life prove neither especially witty nor especially profound. One's irritation with them grows as the same observations are repeatedly introduced as freshly coined -- presumably a matter of oversight on the part of both author and editor. By midway through, as the annoyance factor rises, you might be tempted to put the book aside.
To do so would be a mistake. The book's great strength lies in the characterization not of Sparky, its main protagonist, but of Tenishia. Rosenberg renders this stubborn and strong-willed yet vulnerable and terribly frightened black teenage girl, suddenly plunked into an all-white world, beautifully. All the other irritations with the book fade into insignificance beside the fact that we care so desperately about her fate, and hope so much that, despite all the odds, there'll be a happy ending to the tale for her.
Some of the other characters are nicely done too -- Jeffie, the local white boy smitten instantly by the newcomer to the Hardwood high school, and Bridget, Sparky's old flame suddenly reappeared in his life -- but it's the brutally orphaned girl herself, even though she has comparatively little onstage time, who captures our emotion and keeps the pages turning.
So it's well worth reading this book solely for the great pleasure of encountering Tenishia, who's a substantial fictional creation. I suspect she'll remain in my mind long after much of the rest of Home Front, including its rather humdrum plot, has been forgotten.
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