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"We Americans," Stanley Crouch argues in the introduction to this collection of his recent essays and reviews, "no matter our superficial distinctions, are always in the middle of a dialogue, an eternal -- and inevitable -- democratic discourse." On the evidence of these pieces, Crouch brings one of the most provocative and original voices in American letters to the discussion. Whether he's writing about race and the Simpson trial, the careers of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, the films of Quentin Tarantino, the sociology of W.E.B. DuBois or the novels of Saul Bellow, Crouch is always working, with considerable zest, to discard layers of cant and confusion, to return every debate to first causes, to identify the essential features of any question.
Crouch first gained recognition for his writings on jazz, and there is a wonderful improvisational energy to his prose, a free flowing and very deft interweaving of precise observation and frank autobiography. There are also echoes in his prose of the two writers he most admires, Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison.
Throughout these pieces Crouch is at pains to remind his readers that our increasingly dogmatic and ill-formed concepts of race are distracting us from coming to grips with the core problems we face. He is, nonetheless, guardedly optimistic: "It seems to me that we are rising, head first...to a world far more complex and rewarding." If that's so, it very likely owes something to the bracing clarity and force of Stanley Crouch's work.