The ToB, presented by Field Notes, is here!

It's the 2023 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes! And it's finals week! Dig in!

New Finds

Pants on Fire

Audiences should note the racially charged tale at the heart of Oscar Bennett's new novel.

Book Cover Growing up in Chicago in the '50s and '60s, I was not aware of this sprawling prairie city's commitment to racial segregation until Martin Luther King came to the city and led marches for fair (desegregated) housing in Caucasian neighborhoods. For such temerity, the good doctor was stoned by white homeowners and others. This was the '60s, and the so-called civil rights movement had gathered enough momentum--with sufficient velocity--to send protesters to the recalcitrant South (Freedom Riders, lunch counter sit-ins, the Selma marches, the K.K.K. killing of Viola Liuzzo, and on and on).

In the intervening years, the notion that racial antipathy has dissipated in this country--thus somehow culminating in the election of a black man to the presidency--is a reminder of the almost laughable disconnect in thinking about race in America. (Don't even get me started on antisemitism.) Oscar Bennett's (The Colored Garden) second novel, The Lie (Algonquin), is a good example of a decent and worthwhile book being overlooked mostly because it is just that: not flashy or extraordinary or big or bold. And perhaps that it's a story that has to do with the tragedy that befalls a black family has something to do with its indifferent reception.

Set in Evansville, Ind., in the mid-'70s, Terrell Matheus is the only witness to his brother's fatal shooting on the front porch of their house. He lies about the circumstances of that death, blaming it on a group of white boys. Havoc, of course, follows as what appears to be a racial murder roils an already short-fused black community. As facts turn out not to be as they have been reported, the story reverts to an interior study of the surviving brother and his frayed relations with his family and his community--which Bennett writes convincingly and sensitively.

I am not sure how I came to this fine piece of storytelling. I am quite glad I did.
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