"The Emperor of Ocean Park" by Stephen L. Carter'-Being a Conservative Black Man in America

Pic of Day

The online resume of Stephen L. Carter has an interesting tidbit.
"His latest book: "The Violence of Peace: America's Wars in the Age of Obama (2011)"
I find this interesting because the idealology of Stephen L. Carter is a bit confusing, at least by the content and tone of this book of his being reviewed: "The Emperor of Ocean Park:.

Stephen Carter is a black man, a Yale law professor according to his resume, and I will add, quite the writer.

Which does not translate into Carter being a good author as opposed to writer, I hasten to add.

Let me explain. This book is about 1/3 too long. The characters are many, confusing and follow no logical order in the plot. The plot is okay, a plot that was put together by a Yale law professor and it shows.

Not that there's any notable methodology to fiction books written by Yale law professors but there IS a methodology by authors who want to beguile and entertain the reader with the quirks and turns of the action.

This book was one chosen by my book club and all of the members agreed that this book was one of the best sleep aids they've ever had and somehow I'm not sure that's a compliment.

So now I must jump in and proclaim that, well I did use the book to gain sleep from time to time, but this was a very compelling book on several levels; levels that kept me intrigued and involved.

This is a book of fiction, a mystery if one were to categorize it. Judge Oliver Garland had been nominated for a supreme court judgeship but was blind-sided by a former law clerk with assertions of corruption and fixing cases.

The book's narrator, Talcott Garland is a law professor at an upscale New England school disguised under different name but we're talking Yale here.

The book begins with the Judge's death and via the literary method of flashbacks and chapter ending teases, Talcott tells the story of his life with Dad the Judge, introduces us to his siblings, tells us about the death of his sister at a very young age, and sidelines a bit with the ongoing tale of a horrible marriage with the mother of his son, Bentley.

At the funeral of Judge Harland Talcott gets his first "clue" from his dead father, said clue coming from a known gangster with whom his father was alleged to have colluded with to fix cases.

Thus the story of Talcott Harland's race to discover his dead father's "arrangements" while being followed by all manner of folks to include wive's lovers, CIA agents, the gangster mentioned above, and various co-workers for various reasons.

Sub-stories include the sad marriage of Talcott with a cheating wife, his relationship with his only loving sibling, his dealings with co-workers and Deans all the while chasing his father's clues to whatever happened to his "arrangements".

In the book, as well as in real life, Talcott/Carter is a black man. Inculcated in the story is life as a wealthy light-skinned black and being the son of the almost unheard of Conservative district judge.

On liberals and conservatives, Carter shines. For the reader has no sense of the author's idealogy. The author handily summons the quirks of liberalism and the drawbacks of conservatism.

Let me be honest here. I read this book because it was assigned reading by my book club. While I might have pulled and read this book beyond the book club I doubt I would have finished it.

It was when  the author launched into a two-paragraph description of a tea towel that I lost it.

Did Stephen Carter have an editor anywhere in his surround when he wrote this book? I've dealt with editors (don't like 'em, consider them writers who can't write) and they'd be redlining every other paragraph had I submitted all that un-needed verbiage.

Sure readers like to, eh, READ a book, and a pretty writer might be able to slide a few extra words than normally allowed for the story. I'd certainly call Stephen Carter a capable writer, better than average maybe.

But he's hardly any genius with the word and he really needs to work on his story-telling skills. Just sitting down and incorporating many characters into every aspect of the mystery is not enough. Story telling requires an outline, a logical sequence of events that does not suspend the reader's disbelief.

A reader should not have to keep track of the characters by tracking them in a notebook is what I'm saying here.

Stephen Carter gets a C in story-telling, a B+ in writing skills and an A- for great political insight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm reading this one now--I have a job where there are periodic bits of downtime when we are allowed to read (and not on electronic devices) so I always make sure I have something. I do feel this book doesn't hold together very well, and sometimes it is altogether jarring. Like today when he has this bit about not wanting to be seen going into the Faculty Reading Room in the campus library with another female professor (I think it was Dear Dana, who he has long before identified as a lesbian, by the way). Seriously?? Who in this day and age (the book is set during GW Bush administration) would think twice about two law school professors of opposite sex meeting an a room reserved for faculty together? And although he has kept a number of the incidents he has experienced to himself, why would people be accusing him of being a psycho conspiracy theorist when phony FBI agents have shown up at his door, one of whom is shortly thereafter drowned after taking a ride in a boat on the Cape in the off season, he has been assaulted by guys later found near dead with fingers chopped off, and so on? Way too many tangents, the plot just rambles along without creating any particular tone or tension. I've reached the "let's get this books over with point"--in fact, I'm off for 4 days, I have 150 pages or so left to read, and I did NOT bring the book home with me.