Durham's first novel, Gabriel's Story, is an original tale about a post-Civil War black cowboy. The author's disappointing follow-up, Walk Through Darkness, is a more conventional narrative about an escaped slave. In the story, a young mulatto named William leaves his plantation for Philadelphia in search of freedom and the woman who is pregnant with their child. He swims the Chesapeake, is betrayed by a black man, escapes from a slave-catcher in a violent uprising and is eventually recaptured. Durham alternates William's story with that of Morrison, a Scottish tracker who is hunting William. Consistent with the book's sentimental nineteenth-century ending is an archaic and formal style. Durham's novel refers to and parallels Frederick Douglass' autobiography but lacks its wit and uncompromising critique of white culture.
Powerfully written and emotionally devastating, this new novel by Durham (Gabriel's Story) tells the parallel tales of two men in antebellum America: William, a young fugitive slave, and Morrison, a white man hired to track him. William escapes from Maryland and makes his way toward Philadelphia in search of his pregnant wife, Dover. Morrison, an older Scottish immigrant, has lived a hard, violent life he's not proud of, whose dark secrets such as his responsibility for the death of his brother slowly emerge as the story unwinds. During his hair-raising flight, William is captured by unscrupulous bounty hunters and threatened with discovery at every turn. He risks his life again and again because "there were regions within him upon which no claim of ownership had hold," and because he wants to find his wife and be a free man. The abominable treatment of slaves is always in the foreground, but Durham never succumbs to sentimentality. In one particularly grueling scene, Morrison learns of the tortures to be inflicted on a black prisoner before he is put to death, and he mercifully ends the man's life. In the thrilling climax, Morrison reveals an unexpected tie that binds him to William and makes a gesture that he hopes will redeem his sins. Durham's writing is forceful and full of startling imagery as he testifies to the courage (and sometimes the ambivalence) of people who, in one way or another, rebelled against the great injustice in American history. (May) Forecast: Like Durham's well-received debut, this is a tale of quests and the transformations they inspire. Hopefully, those who missed Gabriel's Story will be alerted to this title which definitively establishes Durham on the literary map by Doubleday's publicity, which includes national advertising and a national author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Set in antebellum America, Walk Through Darkness offers a powerful perspective on slavery. William, a slave who is often loaned to other plantations for his labor, has returned to his home to find his wife Dover gone. His master's wife, having found her husband in bed with one of the female house slaves, has fled home to Philadelphia and brought the pregnant Dover along with her as her personal maid. William's desperation to find his wife pushes him to escape, and he begins an elaborate journey. Recaptured and escaping on more than one occasion, he sees the many faces of slavery and hope in the men and women around him. William's story runs parallel to that of Morrison, a Scot returned East after years as a trader in the Western territories, who has offered himself as bounty hunter for the escaped William. Through a series of flashbacks from both William and Morrison, the story begins to intertwine and it becomes apparent that Morrison is pursuing William for more than just a bounty. The graphic nature of some of the violence surrounding slavery and the focus on complex adult relationships will limit the audience of this work to senior high and adult collections. The prose is eloquent and the plot moves well; the reader will be eager to turn the page and see the mystery come clear. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Anchor, 274p., Ages 15 to adult.
In his second novel (after Gabriel's Story), set shortly before the Civil War, Durham skillfully interweaves the stories of two men, each searching for something essential in his life. William, a Maryland slave, has been hired out to an extremely cruel master. When he receives word that his wife, Dover, is pregnant and has gone to Philadelphia, accompanying her owner's wife, William sees all his hopes and dreams vanishing and runs away to find Dover, their unborn child, and freedom. The journey is perilous he is captured twice and when he does reach Philadelphia he has no idea how to find Dover or what to do next. William's story alternates with that of Andrew Morrison, an old Scot, with both narratives smoothly blended into a whole. His quest is for redemption and is as emotionally painful as William's. Despite the vividly described obstacles and hardships, this is a love story portraying the bonds between man and woman, parent and child, brother and brother, and man and animal. Durham tells a compelling story, deftly rendering both tenderness and brutality. Recommended for all public libraries. Ann Fleury, Tampa-Hillsborough P.L., FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The long arm of coincidence and an overload of what seems very like wish-fulfillment mar this potentially moving story of a runaway slave's northward odyssey, the successor to Durham's flawed but deservedly praised first novel Gabriel's Story (2001). It consists of two parallel narratives. The primary one follows William "Humboldt's" flight (in 1854) from the Maryland tidewater plantation where he had remained after his pregnant wife Dover was brought by her mistress north, to Philadelphia. Interpolated italicized chapters and passages chart the progress of Andrew Morrison, a Scottish immigrant and hunter hired by William's owner to retrieve the latter's "property." The story is best in the early going, as Durham's obviously thorough research and deep empathy with his subject create vivid pictures of Morrison's haunted past and William's successive ordeals, including incarceration in a slave compound followed by a bloody rebellion during which he escapes again, rescue by a ship whose compassionate captain refuses the demands of Southern slaveholders, and William's embattled passage to Philadelphia and reunion with Dover. So far, so good-except when characters like saintly fellow fugitive Lemuel and Northern freedman Redford Prince are permitted to lecture us about such issues as the Fugitive Slave Law and the brotherhood of man. And the novel collapses into ludicrous contrivance when Durham (as unsubtly as can be imagined) links the guilty secret in Morrison's past with William's clouded paternity and personal history. One understands that Durham's point is (as Faulkner made clear again and again in his fiction) the degree to which all our histories intersect and are interdependent. Buthis story's thrust is so weighted toward melodramatic oversimplification that one thinks, while reading it, less of earlier literary fiction built on similar themes than of the TV version of Roots. The sheer power of its core material makes Walk Through Darkness intermittently gripping and affecting, but far too much of its content simply defies credibility. One wonders if it's actually Durham's first novel. Author tour
“Poetically graceful. . . .Combines history and morality with a dynamic intelligence.” The New York Times
“The story of Civil War-era America, magnificently told.” The Washington Post
“The scope of Walk Through Darkness is immeasurably grand, and its story involves us on a primal, irresistible level.”Newsday
“David Anthony Durham… has formed his own inclusive and original vision of American society, nourished by a nuanced understanding of history and an intuitive, almost spooky feel for the inner lives of its inhabitants…. Walk Through Darkness remains a hugely ambitious book that leaves the reader wondering, and waiting for, what Durham will do next.” The New York Times Book Review
“Black and white was never so gray, and gray was never so vibrant as it streams across [these] pages. . . Durham remains not just a startlingly poetic African-American voice but a welcome voice in the rich spectrum of American letters.”–Denver Post
“Walk Through Darkness gets under your skin and stays there. In language both disturbing and haunting, Durham presents a many-layered story of love and race and, ultimately, the very issue of humanity itself. With masterful ease he plumbs the crevices of our collective consciousness and reveals not only the terrible truths but also the lustrous beauties that reside there.”–Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall
“Evocative and finely wrought. . . resonates with the great American historical irony.”–San Francisco Chronicle
“Part love story, part historical drama, Durham achieves something that lesser authors can only dream of: He blends the various elements of his novel seamlessly, integrating a number of disparate characters, settings and ideas into a lyrical, cohesive whole.”–The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
“Rich, evocative. . . A complex story that is uniquely American.”–Philadelphia Tribune
“Complex, brilliantly written and deeply engaging, Walk Through Darkness shows a young novelist building on his formidable narrative gifts to produce a powerful work of historical fiction.”–BookPage
“Powerfully written and emotionally devastating. . . Durham’s writing is forceful and full of startling imagery.”–Publishers Weekly (starred)