Best Intentions

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Anson begins with an understatement: “Wednesday, the twelfth of June, 1985, was not one of New York City’s better days.” He describes the scenario -- the inclement weather, the sluggishness of the people, the latest crimes, and, amidst all this, the shooting of Edmund Perry by police officer Lee Van Houten. Anson touches on the controversy surrounding the killing: Since Van Houten alleged that it was provoked by an attempted robbery, was the shooting self-defense or was it avoidable? Significantly, Anson does not dwell on the issue of race as it affected the shooting. Using it as a touchstone, BEST INTENTIONS moves away from the controversy and concentrates on how a kid such as Eddie, a young man who apparently had everything going for him, could get involved in such a deplorable incident.

Realizing that perhaps the only answer to this question is at best an assumption, Anson manages to conduct a compelling investigation which carries great psychological and sociological import. The reader is introduced to Eddie by the people who knew him best -- his parents, his teachers, and his friends. From his taped interviews, Anson provides firsthand impressions of Eddie. The reader, however, plays no passive role: One soon begins to empathize with some of Eddie’s problems, particularly the schizophrenic life-style into which he was forced as a black at the traditionally upper-class and largely white Exeter. This situation managed to alienate Eddie from both worlds -- whether he was in Harlem or at Exeter, Eddie took half of each world with him, never fully belonging to either world. While one sympathizes with this situation, it proves more difficult, and indeed almost impossible, for the reader to accept Eddie’s use and selling of drugs.

Anson wisely makes no judgment on this issue and others; the reader must come to his own conclusion. With race relations strained by such incidents as the Bernhard Goetz subway shootings and Ku Klux Klan uprisings in the South, BEST INTENTIONS should be required reading, for only by understanding the plight of others can we hope to put an end to these senseless tragedies.