All-Bright Court Summary
Connie Porter’s All-Bright Court consists of a number of stories about people, most of them African American, who live in the area of Lackawanna, New York, near the steel plant where many of the men work. Each chapter in the book is structured as a short story, focusing on a single point of view and moving inexorably through an episode or a series of related episodes to a well-thought-out conclusion. Unifying elements among the chapters, however, make All-Bright Court a novel, rather than a collection of short stories. The book is arranged chronologically to cover a period of about twenty years, during which Porter traces the life of Samuel Taylor and, later, the lives of his wife and his children—in particular of Michael (Mikey), who often appears even in the chapters that are told from the viewpoints of other characters.
Throughout her novel, Porter maintains a second narrative line, reminding her readers of events in the outside world and pointing out the effects they have on the lives of her characters. At times, these references come in the form of dialogue, as when plant workers discuss the probability that the expansion of European steel plants will cause layoffs in Lackawanna. It is usually television that brings the outside world into All-Bright Court. Mary Kate weeps when President John F. Kennedy is assassinated and Dorene Taylor, Mikey’s younger sister, hides in terror, because she thinks that the war in Vietnam may come to her home. In addition to reinforcing the chronological structure of the novel, these references to outside events emphasize the sense of powerlessness felt by all Porter’s characters, eventually even by the determined Samuel Taylor.
Samuel Taylor’s story begins when, as an unwanted orphan in Tupelo, Mississippi, Samuel decides to go north after meeting Mary Kate Bell. As soon as he has established himself in Lackawanna with a job, a house, and furniture, he returns to Tupelo, marries Mary Kate, and takes her to her new home.
In the years that follow, Samuel and Mary Kate work hard. They are conscientious parents and responsible citizens. Samuel, however, is never free from worry. He is afraid of losing his income, of being laid off or fired, even of being forced to go on strike. Meanwhile, Mary Kate is burdened with almost continual pregnancy, physical and emotional exhaustion, and constant concern about her children, who grow up in an environment that promises them nothing.
Interspersed with the ongoing story of Samuel and Mary Kate Taylor—who, despite a truly heroic struggle, can never improve their lot—are vignettes that reveal far more desperate lives being lived all around them. Because so many of the adults portrayed have long since given up on life, these adults neglect and abandon their children....
(The entire section is 717 words.)