by Nathan McCall
started 10/22/07 finished 11/1/07
Those of us who live in large urban areas are quite familiar with the subject of gentrification. Over the years I have seen neighborhoods in Washington, DC (where I grew up) and Atlanta (where I live now) go through huge transformations from low & lower middle class predominately Black communities to upper middle & upper class white ones. On the surface there are positives: property values rise, cities are able to raise property taxes, crime stabilizes or declines, etc. But what lies beneath? What issues arise between the old guard and the new regime? Where do the poor and working class move to?
Nathan McCall addresses this subject in his new novel, Them. Set in the Sweet Auburn district of downtown Atlanta (if you have visited The Martin Luther King Center or his birth home, then you have been there), tells the story of a set of neighbors in this changing neighborhood. Barlowe Reed is an African American loner who works in a print shop. Born and raised in a small town in Georgia, has a healthy distrust of authority and White people. After being dismissed by his girlfriend and lots of time in the library, he decides that he finally wants to settle down some roots and purchase the house he rents. In the meantime, a young white couple, Sean and Sandy Gilmore, move in next door. Barlowe and Sandy strike up a semblance of a friendship that highlights the tension felt in the neighborhood.
While I did enjoy this book, I kinda wish that someone else had written it. I loved Nathan McCall’s collection of essays, Makes Me Wanna Holler but his fiction writing leaves a little to be desired. Sometimes I felt that the dialogue could have been punched up a bit and the storytelling a little more descriptive. The story was really interesting and I liked how he made sure to include characters who represent African American homeowners. In news stories about lower income neighborhoods Black people are almost never portrayed as actually owning their own homes.
Although the writing was a little flat, I do recommend this book. If you want another take on gentrification, please read The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears that I talked about here.