Jerry H. Bryant
Ronald Fair is one of those American writers who keep producing fine work and getting little recognition. I associate him with writers like Wright Morris, Nelson Algren and Warren Miller, who have enjoyed considerable critical praise but have failed ever to win the profitable attention of the establishment. They occupy that place in American literature most writers would avoid if at all possible: being described as good but minor writers.
Fair is a careful and controlled craftsman. His novels are short, simply and clearly written, and move with speed from one good scene to the next. [We Can't Breathe] … is a moving, cleanly written autobiographical novel about a young black growing up in the slums of Chicago during the thirties and forties.
Fair's Ernie captures the gentle reminiscent tone of a man ambiguously satisfied with the scenes of his past. He amuses us with a gallery of unusual people….
The gang that Ernie leads during his pre-teen years takes part in adventures that remind us of the naughty exuberance of the Dead End Kids—the movie version. They steal from well-stocked, white-owned stores outside their neighborhood. They fight with older neighborhood kids and win….
But the rosy glow of nostalgia is not the dominant tone of We Can't Breathe. Ronald Fair is black, has lived the life he writes about. The creators of the movie-version Dead End Kids were...
(The entire section is 598 words.)