Two Cities: A Love Story

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9780395857304: Two Cities: A Love Story

A redemptive, healing novel, Two Cities brings to brilliant culmination the themes John Edgar Wideman has developed in fourteen previous acclaimed books. It is a story of bridges -- bridges spanning the rivers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, bridges arching over the rifts that have divided our communities, our country, our hearts. Narrated in the bluesy voices of its three main characters, Two Citiesis a simple love story, but it is also about the survival of an endangered black urban community and the ways that people discover for redeeming themselves in a society that is failing them. With its indelible images of confrontation and outrage, matched in equal measure by lasting impressions of hope, Two Cities is a compassionate, lacerating, and nourishing novel.

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Review:

Most fiction built along musical rather than traditional narrative lines quickly sinks under the weight of its own pretensions. Not so Two Cities, John Edgar Wideman's multivoiced improvisation in the key of life. Ranging from funk to blues to jazz, Motown to gospel to pure high classical, these wise and gritty riffs tell the story of Kassima, who's had hard luck with her men--two drug-dealing sons shot dead and a husband downed by AIDS within ten months: "Just boys and men the whole time I been in this house. Men who act like boys, boys trying to be men. One run-ragged woman trying to teach them the difference between man and boy. As if I knew. As if they ever had a chance."

As the novel opens, Kassima is stepping out for the first time since her bereavement, looking for considerably less than the good and sexy man she finds on a stool in the neighborhood bar. Her encounter with Robert Jones, told by both in lusty counterpoint, is delicious, but she is still too raw from her losses to love easily again and sends Robert packing. In the bluesy interlude that follows, we hear solos that blow across 50-odd years, linking Kassima's story to that of her aged tenant Mr. Mallory, who looks like a bum but takes multiple-exposure photographs and writes lofty, unanswered letters about aesthetics to the Italian sculptor Giacometti. All the while, echoing through the same grim streets, we hear the soundtrack of gangsta rap, punctuated by the sounds of real guns killing real young black men. The two cities of the title are literally Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but here place swallows time, history, grief, violence, and love--giving us both an indelible experience of real people experiencing real pain and real joy and a shivery suspicion that in life as in art, a hundred different and contradictory realities coexist in any given moment. Does love or disappointment or anger conquer all?

You know the old story about the big fish that got away. How the guy telling it keeps cheating, his hands getting wider and wider apart every time he shows how big the fish was. Well, here's a funny thing about the story. Something I never understood before I met and lost her. The guy's not lying. He feels the empty between his hands growing each time he tells the story, each time the damned fish gets away again. You see, the funny thing is the sorry motherfucker's right. No matter how far apart he spreads his lying hands, he's right. The story's true.
Beautiful exaggeration, inspired sociology, and first-rate fiction, Two Cities reverberates with just such truth. Don't miss it. --Joyce Thompson

About the Author:

JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including the award-winning Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, and most recently the story collection God's Gym. He is the recipient of two PEN/ Faulkner Awards and has been nominated for the National Book Award. He teaches at Brown University.

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