The Color Midnight Made

The Color Midnight Made

4.5 2
by Andrew Winer
     
 

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This critically acclaimed debut is a modern Huckleberry Finn, a heartrending tale of wit and grace that charts the coming of age of a color-blind white boy struggling to find meaning in a world divided by poverty and race.

One of the most memorable characters in recent fiction, Conrad Clay is just beginning life. Yet all around him things are ending: His parents

Overview

This critically acclaimed debut is a modern Huckleberry Finn, a heartrending tale of wit and grace that charts the coming of age of a color-blind white boy struggling to find meaning in a world divided by poverty and race.

One of the most memorable characters in recent fiction, Conrad Clay is just beginning life. Yet all around him things are ending: His parents' marriage is crumbling, his father loses his job during the closing of the Alameda naval base, his family faces eviction from their house, and his beloved grandmother is dying.

As betrayal and poverty take their toll, Conrad's efforts to create a new family for himself lead us on a journey alternately hilarious and desolating. Filled with tenderness and a cast of unforgettable characters, The Color Midnight Made is at heart a profound portrait of America.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although coming of age on the mean streets has been done to death, this debut by a Bay Area novelist/screenwriter puts an interesting spin on the genre. Fifth-grader Conrad Clay lives in a seedy neighborhood of Alameda, near the San Francisco shipyards and naval station. The son of an abusive, alcoholic welder, he is one of 14 white boys at Jack London Primary, though he fits in pretty well because he avoids "comin at it on the honky-ass tip." His father has just lost his job (but is keeping it a secret), his mother is slipping deeper into depression, his beloved grandmother is in failing health and they are all facing eviction. He finds some solace with his black best friend, Loop, but even that relationship is tumultuous: at one point his father mistakes Loop for a burglar and nearly shoots him. Characters and plot lines range from the mundane (a bully, some adolescent sexual fumbling) to the bizarre (a pair of gay pro wrestlers, Conrad's plan to kill his father with a pipe bomb), but Winer's take on boyhood, with its attendant spasms of bravado and insecurity, always rings true. He errs toward the obvious when it comes to symbolism (Conrad is partially colorblind, for starters), but his imagery is often arresting and he manages to infuse the various domestic upheavals with a dark, damaged lyricism that is deeply affecting. Agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. (July 2) Forecast: Blurbs from Geoffrey Wolff and Aimee Bender suggest Winer's literary credentials; the novel itself speaks for his street cred. Sales should be strongest on the West Coast, where Winer will embark on a five-city author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his first novel, Winer tells the story of ten-year-old Conrad Clay, a boy whose childhood is almost behind him. The book is dramatic and well written, focusing on the struggles Con must face growing up in the poor and depleted shipbuilding town on the island of Almeda off the California coast. Con struggles with feelings brought about by his parents' constant fighting, his deep longing to escape the island, and his colorblindness. Con can see colors in others mom is yellow, best friend Loop is silver, Gramma is gray but he continues to search for his own color. Con learns that his family and friends are the only thing that can save him from getting completely swallowed up by the troubled environment around him. And when he eventually finds his own color, he realizes that he has "seen it out of the corner of my own eyes all my life." Winer's appealing use of dialog and language contributes to the story's sense of reality, although some not familiar with urban slang, such as "decks" (skateboards) and "bettys" (girls) may find some passages confusing. This quick and impressive read draws the reader in page after page. Recommended for public and academic libraries; Winer is the coauthor of a screenplay recently sold to Fox/New Regency. Lonya French, "Library Journal" Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An earnest if rather stiff debut describes a boy's recollections of growing up in a mildly troubled San Francisco home. Conrad Clay is solitary and somewhat lonely. An only child, he is used to being on his own, and his outsider status is revealed at school, where he's one of the few white boys in an overwhelmingly black student body. He speaks black slang among his classmates, tries hard to think of himself as black, and hopes to convince his friends B.L.T. and Chocolate Chip that he's not a "squid." He doesn't care for church, and sometimes skips it on Sundays. His father Ray is a welder at the Naval Station, a place that's is gradually being shut down, and Ray knows it's only a matter of time before he'll be laid off. He drinks too much beer sometimes, which worries Conrad's mother Jan. Conrad's grandmother also lives with them; she misses her dead husband, has trouble getting along with Conrad's mother, is sickly and very much afraid of death. Ray's best friend at work is another welder named Moose, who is married to Lin and has a baby named Freddy. Eventually Conrad's father loses his job, and money becomes tight. The family falls behind in rent but is saved from eviction because Conrad writes a nice letter to the landlord (who is very old and sick and lives in Florida) offering him his prize football card if he'll give Conrad's father some time to find another job. In the end, Conrad's father moves to Virginia to work at the Navy Yard there, while Conrad stays back in San Francisco with his mother, who has a new job at a hospital in Oakland. Well-crafted but directionless and unexceptional, becoming tedious in short order. Author tour

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743439923
Publisher:
Washington Square Press
Publication date:
06/24/2003
Edition description:
First Washington Square Press Trade Pape
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
0.65(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

They say I can't see colors. They're lying. I can see colors in people. Moms is yellow. Pops is camouflage. Our teacher Mr. Garabedian is tan like a weed. I got a color for everybody. Except me.

I told my best friend Loop he was silver and black, like the Oakland Raiders. Loop gave me a slug.

"I already black," he said.

So he went solo with silver.

It started when we had to get our eyes checked by Dr. Chow, Eye Master of the Universe. He was already waiting in the library when we sleazed in. Mr. Garabedian said we had to keep a tight line and walk in pairs. We were a centipede of backpacks.

Everyone talked loud but not me. I always go quiet in the yellow light of the old library. Those books are talking too much already.

Eye Master of the Universe sat near Biography, bald and wearing a white coat. He was testing us one at a time and taking forever. Loop pulled out of line to get a look.

"W'sup with this stupid test?" Loop said. "This is for squids. Only whiteboys get their eyes checked."

"I know," I said. "W'sup with that?"

Yeah, I was a whiteboy. Jack London Primary only had fourteen. But nobody, including Loop, thought of me as one. Loop said I musta been black in a past life, so it was cool I was hangin wid the bruthas in this one, since I had prior experience and did not be comin at it on the honky-ass tip.

So I was okay.

We were almost to the front of the line. My stomach went tight each time I looked at Eye Master. I had to pass his test in front of Loop and the other gritties, or else I'd look like a squid.

I lifted my eyes up to the library's high arched ceiling and took a deep breath. The hanging lamps glowed softly above me like twelve old suns, and the air tasted calm and quiet and as yellow as it looked. It tasted like books and breath. It smelled older than Earth.

It was our turn and Eye Master made me go first. You had to sit in the chair and cover one eye at a time and read a dumb chart on the wall. I had it all sewed up until from out of nowhere he flashed some cards at me. Each had a bunch of color dots smashed together like grapes. "Tell me the number you see," he said.

The first three cards were easy: Six, Eight, Zero. But the next few didn't have any numbers in them — just colored dots. Behind me, Loop and Clarence and Douglas whispered "Seven!" and "Two!" and every goddamn number but I couldn't see anything.

Come on you dots, I said, You gotta have a number in there.

Eye Master said, "Are you sure, Conrad? Try it again."

I ran my tongue over my back teeth and gave it all my mentals but the dots weren't talking to me, except to say: Hi, dots ain't in right now but please leave a message, thanks, and yo mama!

Eye Master picked five special cards out of his stack and shuffled them. It was real important I try my best this time, he said. I squeezed my finger into a sticky gum wad under my chair, and he flashed me all five cards: "Anything? — how about this? Anything? This? — or this? — or this?"

"Nope." "Nope." "Nope." "Nope." "Nope!"

He stuck the last card in my face and gave it a shake. "No? — you don't see a number?"

"Nope."

Eye Master's mouth was a straight line.

"Come with me," he said, taking my arm and pulling me past everybody. Loop and the other gritties stepped back. I heard them whisper I was going blind.

In the librarian's office Eye Master closed the door and pulled the shades so the others couldn't see us. The office didn't have the good old smell of books like out in the library — it smelled sharp and mean, like metal and new paint. The light was different too. It sprayed from a white fluorescent tube and ricocheted off the walls and X-rayed everything in the room. If I closed my eyes, I could see the skeleton of the chair and the desk and even of Eye Master, who sat there writing on a piece of paper.

"What's wrong?" I asked him.

With his other hand he pressed his bald head in one spot, leaving a white mark. "You're partly colorblind," he said.

"No I am not."

"Yes you are."

He was still writing. I looked down at his black shoes. "No I am not."

"You're red and green colorblind," he said. "You have trouble with purples, pinks, any hues that contain red or green."

He sounded pretty damn happy about that.

"But I can see colors. I can see red. I can see green too."

"Not the green everyone else is seeing. You see colors differently than other people. And you have difficulty telling red and green apart."

My throat felt dry as chalk. "I can see colors," I said.

He sighed and turned to me. "Look, the eye detects colors by having an equal balance of rods and cones, and you have less cones than a person who sees colors normally."

I didn't know what to say about that. Eye Master seemed to have an awful lot to write about my problem, and from what I could make out, the other gritties were right: I was headed for being blind. Today I couldn't see colors. Tomorrow I wouldn't be able to see things.

Pops had said fifth grade was gonna grease me.

Eye Master handed me the paper and smiled. "Give that to your parents."

Loop and Clarence and Douglas were waiting out in the library. The way they stared at me you'd have thought I was blind already. "W'sup?" "'Sup?" "'Sup?" they said.

I couldn't look at them. I was a squid.

I walked right out of the library and into the cold blue afternoon light and didn't stop until I reached the basketball courts where I pulled out Eye Master's note and pressed it against the metal post. It was written to The Parents of Conrad Clay and said I was not colorblind complete, but pretty damn close.

I stared at the note and swallowed three times. It didn't seem right that a piece of paper could change your whole life. But there it was.

I stuffed the note back in my Raiders jacket and ran all the way out to Naval Housing, where kids screamed and spidered over the monkey bars and a boy with mud on his cheeks pointed a space gun at me. I kept going out to Slime Canal, past the Ferry, and past a ship from China named Cho Yang. I watched a pigeon flap out of my way. I wanted to see things like everyone else did. If I practiced my colors enough maybe I'd see them right — like a brutha. Don't worry now eyes, I said, We're gonna set you straight. We just gotta practice:

Yo pigey pidge! I said, You're gray.

Too easy.

I yelled at the ship from China, Yo Cho! You're white and red stainy! Get a new paint job please!

Hey you yellow weed, smash! Now you're juice! And what's hangin old black cracky tire?

I pulled out the note from Eye Master of the Universe again. Then I folded it into a spaceship, added a rock for the motor, and launched it into Slime Canal. I didn't wanna worry Moms and Pops with my discount eyes. They had enough trouble. Good-bye note, Peace! I said. Have fun at the bottom of Slime Canal. Plunk!

Now you are a sturgeon taco.

Copyright © 2002 by Andrew Winer

What People are saying about this

Janet Fitch
Andrew Winer writes wicked funny prose. His ear for dialogue is pitch-perfect. Every sentence is a surprise and a delight in this poignant story of a boy's growing up at the end of things -- his parents' marriage, the death of his grandmother, the closing of the Alameda naval base and decline of the city. Winer absolutely nails the comic/tragic textures of modern urban childhood. (Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander)
Glen David Gold
In Conrad Clay, Andrew Winer has created a truly wonderful character whose exposures to the cruelties, joys and broken promises of the adult world are alternately funny and desolating. Not only did I root for Conrad in one terrific scene after another, but I've been infected by his lingo. (Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil)
Aimee Bender
Conrad Clay is a wonderfully memorable character, one who sticks in your head long after the book is over. This novel, like Conrad, brims with charm, and Winer's sharply observed take on a ten-year-old's world, paired with his exuberant language, make for a terrific read. (Aimee Bender, author of An Invisible Sign of My Own)
Geoffrey Wolff
THE COLOR MIDNIGHT MADE is a bold book, generous and ambitious, the voice is spot on, and my heart is filled with these characters. Everyone gets a full share of dignity and wit and passion. Without yielding to sentimentality, Andrew Winer has made a lovable character in Conrad Clay-alert to life's risks, hospitable to its lucky breaks, arms open to the world. (Geoffrey Wolff, author of The Duke of Deception)
Elinor Lipman
Is it possible to write convincingly about the underbelly of life and at the same time tickle the reader? Andrew Winer has done just that-created a Huck Finn for the new century in this wry, poignant, and very dear first novel. (Elinor Lipman, author of The Inn at Lake Devine)
Margot Livesey
In the tradition of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke, Ha, Ha, Ha and Tony Earley's Jim the Boy, Andrew Winer has created an indelible portrait of the poetic, painful, often humorous world of Conrad Clay during the last months of childhood. THE COLOR MIDNIGHT MADE is an illuminating and unabashedly tender novel. (Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves The Furniture)

Meet the Author

Andrew Winer received his M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of California at Irvine. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he now lives in Southern California with his wife, author Charmaine Craig. He is currently at work on a new novel. Visit www.andrewwiner.com.

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The Color Midnight Made 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a powerful book. I couldn't put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was out-standing. At first it was slow moving and than Wham it took flight to the very end.