The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Craig Suder is a combination of victim and victor. On one hand, he appears to be the archetypal dupe; in fact, Sid Willis asserts, “Luck has decided you’re the greatest patsy since the Jews.” On the other hand, his flight from adversity seems to propel him forward to experiences that are life-affirming both for himself and for others.

The character and fate of Craig Suder validate Bud Powell’s contention that he resembles Charlie “Bird” Parker. The now-legendary jazz saxophonist led a hapless, rootless existence marked by drug abuse and living on the edge of his endurance. Parker, however, wrote and performed music that could be both energetic and exuberant; his music gave shape and coherence to his private emotional turmoil. Craig Suder’s life is characterized by much the same pattern: stunning reversals and an ultimately triumphant transcendence of his problems when he takes flight.

Much of the frantic propulsion of the story is derived from its first-person narration, which is marked by short sentences and the active voice. In some ways, Suder’s clipped narrative voice emulates the pacing of bebop jazz. Having worked as a jazz musician, Everett has intimate knowledge of the art form that pervades this novel, especially the staccato phrasing of Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” “I could feel the push of the song, a tension,” Suder admits as a young boy hearing Powell play the tune. Much the same can be said of the...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Craig Suder

Craig Suder, the protagonist, a thirty-three-year-old African American who plays third base for the Seattle Mariners. Depressed by career and family problems and haunted by the fear that he may have inherited from his mother a predisposition toward insanity, Suder runs away. On the road, he has a number of improvised adventures that culminate in his attempt to fly under his own power.

Kathy Suder

Kathy Suder, Craig’s mother, whom his father one day pronounces “crazy.” Paranoid about her husband’s presumed philandering, she wears a full-collared coat in the middle of summer and takes up running to lose weight and thereby regain her husband’s affection. Eventually, she establishes the personal goal of running around the city limits of Fayetteville, North Carolina, a distance of twenty-three miles.

Ben Suder

Ben Suder, Craig’s physician father, a man of infinite patience, understanding, and quiet resignation. He is the point of calm in the Suders’ stormy home life. He refuses to consider psychiatric treatment or institutionalization for his wife, calling such responses “white people’s foolishness.”

Martin Suder

Martin Suder, Craig’s brother, who shares his distress over their mother’s condition and bears most of the brunt of her sexual puritanism. In choosing to become a dentist, he opts for an adult life of method and...

(The entire section is 526 words.)