|Keywords: Short stories, urban fiction, black writing
Title: Churchboys and Other Sinners
Author: Preston L. Allen
Publisher: Caroline Wren Press
I admit that I had never heard of Preston L. Allen before, and that I was dubious about this collection of short stories from him. Short stories are a notoriously tricky territory, in many ways they demand more from the writer than fully fledged novels do. But I have to say that I was just plain wrong, and that I went very quickly from fearing the worst to wanting more.
'Is Randy Roberts There?', the piece that opens this anthology is in many ways the weakest of the stories. Perhaps it's because the central character is a female, while interesting it just failed to grab me as much as the pieces that follow. However, like all the stories, it is set in the South of the United States and is about day to day life in black communities.
Young black men are the central protagonists of the rest of the short stories, from the surly kid sneaking out of class to meet an older woman in 'Get Some' to the linked series of stories about Elwyn - from piano playing prodigy to Christian zealot to used-car salesman. The characters are convincing, as are the situations they find themselves in. Allen has a knack of getting us into the heads of his characters, and this is good because these are not the young black men you'll see on the news. Their lives are more ordinary, their concerns more real and that makes them, and their stories, interesting. Church and family loom large, school and relationships - with women and with other black men - are central.
I had expected the worst, fearing a fiction that was about 'issues', but Preston L. Allen has done a greater service by writing about a world that is hidden from the mainstream.
This is one title that is highly recommended.
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