“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.)