Albert French's first novel Billy was published to great critical acclaim--hard-earned praise for a novelist who began writing to battle his way out of depression, and who is one of a growing but as yet curiously underappreciated group of contemporary African-American literary writers.
Albert French's fiction has also been compared to Zora Neale Hurston's and Richard Wright's in its stark, naturalistic recreations of Black community life and the racism that inevitably impacts it. His intimate, dialectical language is used to elegiac effect in I Can't Wait on God. In the back alleys of Homewood, Pennsylvania, where the novel is set during five summer days in the Truman era, French establishes a microcosmic universe of ambition, despair, and survival.
Willet Mercer and Jeremiah Henderson, an enigmatic couple hell-bent on escaping Homewood, are forced to an act of violence one night that ends with the pair burning a trail for New York with a wad of bills and a stolen Buick. But by the time their crime is discovered, they've started on a risky detour to Willet's hometown in North Carolina, where she hopes to see the son she left behind. In the meantime, back in Homewood, as the Korean War warms up on the radio, and the white police tear up the street in search of the criminals, Mister Allen sits on his porch convinced he's not messing in anybody else's business, Gus Goins serves gin and chicken at his place, and Mack Jack, the jazz man who hasn't touched his horn since he returned from St. Louis, silently struggles with his own frustrations. The cinematic cast of characters, the tastes, smells, and voices of Homewood are made startlingly real and vivid, and the novel itself is a creation of tragic verisimilitude.
This month's Bold Type brings you an excerpt from I Can't Wait on God, in which Willet and Jeremiah return to Willet's home: Snake Town, North Carolina.
Photo of Albert French copyright © Jen Saffron
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