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The Emperor of Ocean Park.

by Stephen L. Carter, Alfred A. Knopf $26.95, June 2002 ISBN 0-375-41363-4

I always feel an acute sense of loss when I reach the last page of a book, blankness. After reading Stephen L. Carter's much-anticipated debut novel, there is a profound sense that we've seen the end of an era. At just over 650 pages, "era" seems an apt description of the scope of The Emperor of Ocean Park, which is no ordinary drama. Carter, a law professor at Yale University for 20 years and author of the controversial nonfiction best-seller The Culture of Disbelief, crafts a slowly unfolding mystery that is hard to put down. He seeks to incorporate the hopes and dreams of a community within what he calls "the darker nation" filled with characters straight out of the Ivy-League educated, black middle class.

When Oliver Garland, a politically ruined former Supreme Court nominee turned right-wing pundit, dies under mysterious circumstances, he leaves behind a double-edged legacy that touches everyone he has known. His death also becomes a mystery for his son Talcott to unravel. The answer to the puzzle hinges on a chess problem Oliver Garland counts on his son to solve, wherein black can checkmate white in two moves or less. Trouble is, Talcott, a tenured law professor at a stuffy New England law school, is not quite the shiniest bulb in this well-lit chandelier--and he's not the only one searching for answers to his father's mysterious death.

Class, gender, race, sexuality and the politics of personal interest are strategically positioned in the metaphorical chessboard of Carter's fictional world. The Emperor of Ocean Park contains well-defined, engaging characters that will stubbornly grow on even the most resistant reader, (the novel's tone and language can be a bit pithy and off-putting) such as those neurotic cousins who show up empty-handed and late to every family reunion.

Successfully living up to at least some of the hype, The Emperor offers something for every reader, with enough amusing insider references for chess lovers, academics and the Inkwell crowd, to qualify as a book many may find themselves claiming was written just for them.

-- Samiya A. Bashir is coeditor of Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Art & Literature.
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Bashir, Samiya A.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:373
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