BOOK REVIEW

       THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK

It is not the destination but the journey that percolates here.
The Odyssey is about Odysseus' journey home; but the meat of the story is in the little side journeys the protagonist takes. Talcott Garland's odyssey is the vehicle by which we get to glimpse an engaging panorama of a certain kind of life in twentieth century America. The novel is touted as being a nice little thriller with rather provocative views of the African American upper middle class; academia in a high strata law school; and the judicial appointment process for the two highest courts in the land. The novel opens with the untimely death of the eminent Judge Oliver Garland. The buzz is that Judge Garland wanted certain rascals exposed in the event that he died under suspicious circumstances. The Judge himself had been denied a seat on the United State Supreme Court because of scandal. The inference the reader is to make is that whatever "arrangements" the good judge left behind will partially answer questions about the so-called scandal: thus mitigating the judge's fall from grace; and possibly exposing or implicating powerful and important personalities in some elaborate scheme of intrigue. Talcott Garland, (Misha to family and close friends, Tal to his colleagues) the youngest of Judge Garland's children, has been pushed or pulled by circumstances to try to find the answer to the riddle of the "arrangements" his Sphinx like father hid. While on his journey, Misha like great Odysseus comes face to face with death several times in several ways: physically, mentally and spiritually. Along the way several characters are determined to complicate obfuscate or otherwise distract Misha from his appointed task. The diversions Misha faces are the stuff of which the energy of the novel hums. These are the little giggles: his fear that his wife Kimmer is unfaithful; the hopeless rapture for his son; the romantic flight of fantasy he takes with a bona fide killer; the various encounters with members of his family; the intrigue among his colleagues at the law school; the awkward meetings with his father's contemporaries. The author spares no opportunity to paint precise and complex character studies with his word choices. The development of each character whether major or bit player is powerful. For example, late in the novel Talcott describes an aunt he has not been in touch with for several years. "...I ring the doorbell, and there is Thera, massive and dark, looking much like the barricade she always tried to build around Sally. She has Sally's fire, but uses the energy it generates to intimidate rather than to charm..." While we don't always "like" some if not most of the characters in the novel they are all personalities we won't soon forget: sympathetic cousin Sally; the mysterious Uncle Jack; the seductive and ubiquitous Maxine; Dear Dana; Dean Lynda; ambitious Kimmer; the reputed spook Scott Colin and all the other cast members. The siren song of Emperor slowly pulls you in and finally doesn't let you go. This Novel is more than a mystery. The vehicle of "the mystery" is merely the ship on which we view one man's journey toward self-discovery.

Alfred Harrell

Reprinted with permission. Do not repost without per
mission from the author,
Alfred Harrell