The New York Times calls Stewart O'Nan "a master of voices and the place they resonate from, of human rhythms and the universal rhythms they cut across." Here, O'Nan captures in heartbreaking detail and embattled black neighborhood in Pittsburgh: A teenaged boy paralyzed while spray-painting graffiti on a bridge; the mother of his child trying to get through college part-time; his brother, recently out of jail and newly religious; their father, who harbors a dark secret; the local politician how wonders where he went wrong...
Crest Tolbert, 18, was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair after slipping, along with his best friend, from an overpass he was tagging with graffiti. His friend died from the fall. His father, Harold, is having a homosexual affair, a fact he cannot admit to his family, whom he would leave if it weren't for Crest's condition. His mother is certain that Harold is cheating on her with a younger woman and is torn between setting him free and trying to win him back. Vanessa, Crest's girlfriend and the mother of his son, has enrolled in her first college class and is learning about the rich history of their people. Eugene, his brother, is a reformed gangbanger, a born-again Christian whose mission in life is to save young gang members before they end up in prison. Although this is not one of the brilliant O'Nan's best efforts, Esposito comes through with a brilliant reading of the text. His quickness and ease with street slang and verbal posturing fit the characters perfectly and make listening to this tale of day-to-day struggle a truly engaging experience. Simultaneous release with the Grove hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 20). (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 04, 2002
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Excerpt from Everyday People by Stewart O'Nan
EAST LIBERTY DOESN'T need the Martin Robinson Express Busway. It's for the commuters who come in every day from Penn Hills and sit in front, hiding behind their Post-Gazettes, their briefcases balanced across their knees. When you get on, their eyes brush up against you, then dart off like scared little fish. They might notice your suit is just as fine as theirs--probably even more styling--but then they look away, and you aren't there anymore. No one saying a mumbling word. Seats all taken like they got on in twos, driver switched them in like a herd of turkeys can't think a lick for themselves. Goddamn. 1998, and you're back in the back of the bus, seats underneath you hot from the big diesel, lump of nasty duct tape grabbing at your slacks.
What East Liberty wanted was a new community center with a clinic. The old one's small and falling apart and just lost its funding. What we need is a good clean place to take the babies, some after-school programs for the young people. But that got voted down in city council. The ballots fell by color lines, paper said--not a surprise, especially the way they said it. A Black thing, all your fault, like you were asking for something no one else has. It was predictable, that's the sad thing; even the good Jewish liberals in Squirrel Hill are pinching their pennies these days. Taxes this and welfare that, like they gonna starve or something. Let's not even talk about them simple crackers out past that.
There still had to be some way to get some money into the community. That must have been what Martin Robinson was thinking. You voted for him--have your whole life--so who are you supposed to blame? And the money would come in. Half the contracts were supposed to go to local businesses, and Martin made sure that happened. That's the good news.
The bad news is that the Martin Robinson Express Busway basically stops all traffic--white and black and otherwise--from coming through the business district. The way the city council and their planners drew up the project, the busway effectively cuts East Liberty off from the rest of Pittsburgh. State money but they made a deal, took his own bill out of Martin's hands. Two busy bridges had to go (crowds gathered to count down the perfect explosions), and South Highland had to be rerouted around the business district (meaning the dead Sears there, you understand). So if you ever wanted whitefolks to leave you alone, you ought to be happy now.
Probably would be if it wasn't for the money. And the services too, you know. It'll take that much longer for an ambulance to get over here, and you think that's a mistake? Fire engine, police when you need them, gas and electric in winter.
And then they name the thing after him. Good man, Martin Robinson, not one of those sorry-ass Al Sharpton, greasy-hair-wearing, no 'count jackleg preachers with five Cadillacs and ten rings on his fingers and twenty lawyers playing games. Martin's got thirty years in the state house, might be the best man to come out of East Liberty, definitely the one who's done the most for the people. Come up on Spofford, regular people, raised right. You ask Miss Fisk, she'll tell you. Old Mayor Barr who called out the Guard on us in '67, he got a tunnel named after him, and Dick Caligiuri, the poor man who died of that terrible disease, he got the county courthouse. Martin Robinson deserves the new stadium, or maybe that community center we need, something positive, not some raggedy-ass busway. It's plain disrespectful.