|Publisher:||Penguin Group (USA)|
|Product dimensions:||4.96(w) x 7.72(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 1, 1957
Place of Birth:Nashville, Tennessee
Education:A.B. in English, Princeton University, 1979; M.A. in English and creative writing, Hollins College, 1981
What People are Saying About This
A deftly executed journey into life as experienced by struggling urban youth.
Before the live bn.com chat, Madison Smartt Bell agreed to answer some of our questions.Q: Many of your earlier books take place in the New York City area. How autobiographical were those stories, and how much was your living in New York an influence in your earlier writing?
A: Some of the New York short stories in my first collection were fairly autobiographical. The New York novels weren't very autobiographical at all. The principal characters were all invented, though every now and then I'd write one of my friends into a small part as sort of an inside joke.
But living in New York was certainly a big influence on that part of my work. I had come from a very different situation -- a small farm in Tennessee -- to the Brooklyn ghetto, so I had an outsider's perspective on it all; everything was foreign and therefore extremely interesting, and to me it was all especially interesting as setting and subject.
Q: How would you describe your experience as a teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop?
A: I've actually written something about this in the first section of my textbook, Narrative Design. I had a great time at Iowa, because I like to work with good students close to publication, and Iowa does get its pick of the best. It was a pretty heavy schedule, because it's a large program, and since all the students were interesting I didn't like to turn anyone away from tutorials and whatnot, so in that sense it was kind of fatiguing, but still very enjoyable work.
Q: Who do you think are a few of the best young writers out there today?
A: I'm going to guess this means "younger than me" at this point, since I have slipped over 40 somehow. Pinkney Benedict, Darcey Steinke, William Vollmann, David Foster Wallace, Edwidge Danticat, Stewart O'Nan, Mary Gaitskill, Percival Everett (perhaps over 40, these two, I'm not so sure), Catherine Ferrell, Michael Knight -- just off the top of my head. The woods are full of them....
Q: With martial arts playing such an important role in your latest book, Ten Indians, and your life, being a black belt yourself, what has been your reaction to the recent resurgence in popularity here in the United States of Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong martial arts flicks?
A: Interesting question. Being parent to a small girl child, I haven't seen many movies lately. I've only seen one Jackie Chan movie, which I liked. I thought his idea of doing a comic inversion of Bruce Lee's character was nifty, though actually I prefer martial arts stories to be grim and tragic. But Chan is the most serious and accomplished martial artist to be in the movies since Bruce Lee, I think -- though one shouldn't forget Mark Salzman, certainly one of the best round-eyes in Chinese martial arts -- and also an excellent writer.
Q: Have you read anything lately that you would strongly recommend?
A: Sure. I like The Saskiad by Brian Hall, Already Dead by Denis Johnson, The Mercy Seat by Rilla Askew, Big Picture and Frenzy by Percival Everett, Charlie and the Children by Joanna C. Scott, Circumnavigation by Steve Lattimore, The Good Brother by Chris Offutt, Bye-Bye by Jane Ransom, This Is the Place by Peter Rock, I Saw a Man Hit His Wife by Mark Greenside...to name a few.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the most underrated of American writers Madison Smartt Bell never seems to win any literary prizes but over the years he's written many very good and several outstanding works. This one is set in Baltimore and revolves mainly around two characters--a white child psychologist Devlin and a sad and reluctanly violent black drug dealer Trig. Devlin is also a black belt in Tae Kwan Do--something in which his daughter a high honor student in high school and heading for a prestigious college also excels. The owners of a Korean school that Devlin trains in want to franchise and they encourage to open up shop in a black neighborhood in Baltimore's inner city. His first students are all members of a drug gang that's in the initial stages of a war with another rival drug gang over a somewhat friendly fire killing of a young girl associated with that rival gang and which had been quickly followed by a revenge killing of one of its members. When Trig (from the second gang) shows up one day with his crew to also learn Tae Kwan Do tensions are high. These tensions are quickly difused by Devlin in-house but it never really lets up outside as bodies continue to fall. As Devlin's marraige becomes more and more strained and he battles with depression his daughter begins a relationship with Trig whose smaller gang is being whittled down. Devlin in the meanwhile is being badgered by the police and after a social call from Trig's grandmother tries to mediate between the two groups but it only gets another of Trig's men murdered. Eventually Devlin himself will be murdered--an act in which he saves his daughters life and Trig will go to prison for his drug dealing--after being arrested having made a hopeless attempt to save Devlin's life. In prison he meditates on the past using the memory of Devlin as a kind of inner conscience to converse with. There are some blemishes here IMO--particularly revolving around a childnapping by Devlin early on--it revolves around the girl killed by accident--it really streches credibility. Even so Bell is a very effective writer. He seems to inhabit peoples skins. The story is told from several narrative points of view--the white Devlin's voice contrasts sharply with the stylism of the black voices of Trig and another black girl Sharmane. And the point is not just that there are two kinds of voices but in the real gulf between the very different worlds that those voices come from--which are only occasionally bridged apart from the times when they are training in which the animostiy between the two rival factions and the racial divide between black and white more or less disappears.
The book was a compelling struggel between two ethnic cultures with the charecters at a some what never ending battle. Child psychiatrist Mike Devlin trys what seems his entire life to make a difference but when the constant killings on the streets of baltimore leed him to belive that his efforts have failed.