Brothers and Keepers: A Memoir (Anglais) Broché – 26 janvier 2005
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A gripping, unsettling account, Brothers and Keepers weighs the bonds of blood, tenderness, and guilt that connect Wideman to his brother and measures the distance that lies between them.
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Wideman neither lionizes nor blames his brother, Robert, but not so ironically, he recognizes in his little brother the true modern day romantic: the chance-taker, the rebel with a cause, and the convict who retains his dignity through loss and ordeal.
Nevertheless, I would not undermine or degrade Wideman's book by calling it "uplifting" or "inspirational." There are enough canned chicken-soup books for those who prefer spoonfeeding to hard realism and true brotherly love.
Wideman covers just about every possible combination of voice, tense, point of view, and narration. One of the old "rules" of fiction was to keep POV changes to a minimum. This is supposed to help the reader identify with a character and not have to reorient himself or herself and thus "fall out of the story." Likewise, the rules of writing discourage tense changes, hoping to keep a supple continuum going in the reader's mind. But in this book, Wideman wanders all over the place, sometimes shifting three or four times within the same page. (see page 8). Although I admire Wideman for trying this, for me as a reader, breaking the rules had exactly the effect the rulemakers fear -- I fell out of the story and became confused, disoriented, and disinterested.
But If You Must Do It, DO It.
To compound this problem, Wideman makes one more mistake in shifting realities. He doesn't keep it up. The first chapter of the book makes it seem as though we are going to get a heck of a ride, running all over the place looking for the truth. But in the last two sections, Wideman seems to fall into a reporter's notebook and never come out. Granted we do get to see Robby's words both printed and spoken, but the mishmash of thought, opinion, different tenses and voices is much quieter as the book drones on.
Many times it felt like he was showing off the fact that he was breaking the rules, rather than breaking the rules in order to tell a story that could not be told any other way. This may be because he is an academic, a professor who discusses the structure of literature all day long. He might feel a certain obligation to approach his writing from a litcrit perspective and deliberately do things in his writing that would make for good English papers.
Even though it overall is a great experience, two problems I had with the novel was its lack of structure and Wideman's tendency to rant. It seems that Wideman tends to build up a subplot, but then just as suddenly dashes away to discuss something new. This makes the book difficult to read more than a few pages at a time. As for the ranting, it's like Wideman tries to use the text as a way to vent his frustrations about racism in America. His whining can get excruciatingly annoying. But, despite these problems, "Brothers and Keepers" is an excellent look into the lives of two African-American men, while reflecting on the role of the African-American race as a whole.