Them

By NATHAN MCCALL

In his new novel, Them, Nathan McCall, best known as a memoirist, has tried his hand at fiction with a timely tale of gentrification and its attendant misunderstandings. Set in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, Them traces the gradual yuppification of a historically black neighborhood and the explosive racial tensions that follow suit. At its center is the tentative relationship — never quite the friendship the novel would have you believe — that develops between resident paranoiac Barlowe Reed and the white armchair liberal who moves in next door.

McCall, to his credit, gives voice to a whole slew of viewpoints, whether the characters are nostalgic ’60s civil rights activists struggling to adapt their tactics to a new plight or eager gentrifiers who are blind to why their gestures of civic pride fall short. Though the foundations are in place for a story full of messy realizations and even messier politics, the characters never quite manage to be as complex as the story line in which they are confined. Too often, McCall falls prey to the temptation of exposition: jabs that cross racial lines come with italics (“You never could be too sure with them,” Barlowe warily sums up the newcomer Sandy Gilmore) and the dialogue has a way of lining up difficult questions a little too neatly. Still, Them meets its subject matter head on and gives a nervy glimpse of a community under siege. -