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An Unlikely Candidate & Richmond is Reading

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Paul Beatty, poet and novelist, writes in pungent earthy language about the plight of many African-American males. With his second novel, "Tuff" (Knopf, $23), the author demonstrates a rare ability to describe this group. Protagonist Winston Foshay is 19 years old, weighs more than 300 pounds and has a wife and newborn son. He is nicknamed "Tuffy" because his outward appearance seems formidable, but inwardly he is plagued by continuous self-doubt. Winston's occupational prospects are bleak. His stints of gainful employment have been brief, and his last excursion into the world of organized crime almost resulted in his death in a gangland shooting.

Knowing his path must drastically change, Winston, in desperation, calls Big Brothers and hopes to find a mentor who will help him move in a constructive direction. Soon he is linked with Spencer Throckmorton, an African-American Jewish rabbi who comes to Harlem to start a congregation that will erase the misunderstanding between Jews and Black Muslims. Spencer, though definitely out of his element, gradually wins Winston's respect because of his unswerving convictions and ideals. Through Spencer's influence, Winston begins to believe he can upgrade his life. When Inea Nomura, Winston's surrogate mother and an unapologetic Marxist, offers Winston $20,000 to run for City Council against an inept incumbent, Winston embarks on an unorthodox campaign and documents his stand on issues in a simplistic but sincere fashion. Throughout his unlikely candidacy, Winston develops an incentive to carve out a new destiny for himself and his family.

Beatty uses his main character to relentlessly attack the social inequalities still prevalent in the Harlem landscape. In the author's world, it is not the social agencies, revolutionary rhetoric (as espoused by Winston's father, Clifford, a former Black Panther), or flimflam schemes (as devised by Winston's handicapped friend, Fariq) that will give men like Winston the self-confidence to compete in society. It is Winston's inner desire which, when properly nurtured, will propel him to greatness.

"Tuff" is a rewarding, refreshing novel, which yields literary pinpricks of light that begin to dispel the darkness of urban decay.

— Bruce Simon

Here are the books that are on the bedside tables of some Richmonders:

Ray Boone, editor and publisher of the Richmond Free Press, emphasizes nonfiction in his reading. His current menu includes "Race Crime and the Law," by Randall Kennedy, "Free Speech in an Open Society," by Rodney A. Smolla and "The Good the Bad and Your Business," by Jeffrey L. Seglin. These books, he says, are relevant to today's issues. The third, he says, deals with the responsibility of the corporation and how to make ethical business decisions.

Beverly Reynolds, owner of the Reynolds Gallery, is reading Saul Bellow's "Humboldt's Gift." She tells us she has never read much of Bellow and has found this one to be an exceptionally intriguing book; there are strange characterizations and the narrative takes a little bit of work, but the book is worth it.

Jeffrey H. Slott, M.D., of the Virginia Eye Institute reads the Anne Rice books and any by Tom Clancy. Rice appeals to him because of the history she includes in the stories — although the last two have not been as well-done as the first in the series. Clancy is interesting because of the author's explanations of how things work. At Christmastime, for a treat, "I read the Hobbit stories again."

Cabell West, president of the Woman's Club, is in the middle of "The Five Sisters" about the Langhorne sisters; it is apparently authentic, is full of the history of Virginia, and tells all. Because she is a "biography reader," West is also reading "Mrs. Ike" by Susan Eisenhower.

— Rozanne Epps

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