The 180 pages of Hurry Home are divided into three sections. The point of view shifts frequently from third to first person, sometimes even taking notebook form. The jumpy narration, lacking transitions to aid readers, is extremely difficult to follow. Despite the clues tucked away casually at points throughout—dates and place names thrown in almost in passing—putting events in a logical and coherent order demands constant attention. This storytelling style, apparently meant to be in a high modernist mode, but an ineffective employment of it, combines with often-shaky prose and a spattering of merely decorative literary allusions to turn the story of the protagonist, Cecil Braithwaite, into a mere puzzle too much of the time.
The ordeal of Cecil Braithwaite commands attention, for it presents an intelligent man striving for high achievement and succeeding against considerable odds. Cecil is only the third African American to have been admitted to his law school and is only the second to be graduated. Cecil has to cope with poverty, work, and the distress he suffers from his girlfriend Esther’s stillborn birth of the son they had already named Simon.
The novel opens on November 14, 1968. November is the month in which bad things always happen to Cecil, the month that he can get through only by going to bed with a bottle. He had been graduated from law school and married Esther in 1964, spent three years abroad, and returned to Esther in 1967. In 1968, he is working as a janitor at the Banbury Street Arms, enduring life as best he can. Why he is not practicing law is not explained, but he apparently is in a state of spiritual sloth.
Cecil’s state of mind is dramatized in the opening scene. As he cleans a stairwell, he picks up a tin can, crushes it, and drops it five stories to the basement. The echoing racket rises to the fifth floor, where a woman—red-haired S. Sherman, thirty-two years old—opens her door and asks him why he dropped the can. They have been aware of each other’s presence for a year. The result of their...
(The entire section is 851 words.)