Study Guide

A Glance Away

by John Edgar Wideman

A Glance Away Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

“It is after all a way of beginning.” So opens John Edgar Wideman’s novel A Glance Away. Centering on Eddie Lawson, a young black man wracked by his inadequacies as a son, a brother, and a lover, the novel tells the story of one day in his life. On an Easter Sunday, Eddie returns home—having spent a year in a voluntary drug rehabilitation clinic—only to learn, as have innumerable other protagonists of modern fiction, that you cannot go home again. In the course of this fateful day, a day symbolic of renewal, Eddie encounters the death of his old love affair, the death of his mother, and the ossification of his drive to break free from his past and imagine a new life for himself. As his story unfolds, Eddie’s torments converge with those of Robert Thurley, a white literature professor whose own alienation from life has led him into the dark world of homosexuality. Briefly acquainted with Eddie through his liaison with Eddie’s albino friend, Brother, Thurley is attracted to the younger man’s intensity, and, in the closing scene of the novel—which consists of the disjointed thoughts of the three men as they sit staring into a large campfire—finds new purpose in his life through the fantasy that he can save Eddie from the cruel stings of moral existence.

As the succession of events in the book reveal, Wideman’s opening emphasis on beginning is crucial to Eddie’s story. Eddie (as well as Thurley) is trying to make a new beginning against great odds. After spending a year in a clinic trying to kick a drug habit, Eddie returns to his hometown, where he is marked as a troublemaker. The book’s prologue focuses on his struggle to reenter his family, whose members, dead and living, are thus introduced: his grandfather, DaddyGene, a soul mate for Eddie; his grandmother, Freeda; his mother,...

(The entire section is 748 words.)

A Glance Away Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Draper, James P., ed. Black Literature Criticism. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Provides a biographical profile, as well as excerpts from criticism of Wideman’s works.

Mbalia, Doreatha Drummond. John Edgar Wideman: Reclaiming the African Personality. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1995. Mbalia examines a number of Wideman’s works, exploring themes such as the African personality in Wideman’s writings, the way Wideman portrays women, and the place of the intellectual in the community. Her analysis offers a good overall view of the issues Wideman deals with in his writings.

Mumia, Abu-Jamal. “The Fictive Realism of John Edgar Wideman.” Black Scholar 28 (Spring, 1998): 75-79. Examines the intellectual, social, and racial contexts of Wideman’s writings. Discusses the influence of the black liberation movement on Wideman as well as on the family. Concludes that Wideman’s novels “speak to that pervasive sense of estrangement, and the restorative power of the family” and calls Wideman’s work “a literature of love.” Includes a brief reference to A Glance Away.

Wideman, John Edgar. “Home: An Interview with John Edgar Wideman.” Interview by Jessica Lustig. African American Review 26 (Fall, 1992): 453-457. Explores the influence of Homewood, Pennsylvania, in Wideman’s writings. Wideman talks about the quality of life there, the effect urban renewal can have on a close neighborhood, and the incorporation of the memories of other places he has lived into his portrayal of Homewood. A good resource for background information.

Wideman, John Edgar, and Bonnie Tusmith. Conversations with John Edgar Wideman. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1998. This collection of interviews by various people, including Ishmael Reed, Kay Bonetti, and Gene Shalit, presents an in-depth portrait of Wideman. Wideman’s discussion of his works is informative and revealing.