Publisher: The Ballantine Publishing Company
Length: 286 pages
About: Twelve stories about black Americans
Style: 1st & 3rd person
When: 1960s and 1970s
Elbow Room consists of twelve diverse stories sharing no common point of view. 'Why I like Country Music' and 'The Story of a Dead Man' are attempts by narrators intent on setting another
character straight on events and/or conditions of the past. These stories, therefore, alternate between first-person present and third person past. 'The Story of a Scar' is a first-person, past tense
story within a story, with an anonymous male telling about the experience of listening to an anonymous female victim of a slashing tell her harrowing tale. 'Widows and Orphans' and 'Just Enough for
the City' are told in the first-person past tense, and the remaining stories are told in an impersonal third person past. All of the narrators are black and most of the conflicts are among
But Gweneth Lawson was above regional idealization. Though I might have loved her partly because she was a Northerner, I loved her more because of the world of colors that seemed to be suspended
above her head. I loved her glowing forehead and I loved her bright, dark brown eyes; I loved the black braids, the red and blue and sometimes yellow and pink ribbons; I loved the way the deep, rich
brown of her neck melted into the pink or white cloth of her Peter Pan collar; I loved the lemony vapor on which she floated and from which, on occasion, she seemed to be inviting me to be buoyed up,
up, up into her happy world.
McPherson is an astute realist who knows how to turn the conflicts between individual personalities and the surrounding culturte into artful and highly serious comedies of manners.
Not so good:
...tell the reader a bit less than he wants to know about the characters' lives and a bit more than he wants to know about the ideological or artistic problems that confronted the narrator.
The New Yorker 21st November 1977
About the author
James Alan McPherson was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1943, and raised there. His background was lower-middle class, and he grew up at a time when Georgia's public schools were still segregated.
After college, McPherson attended Harvard Law School, receiving his law degree in 1968. While still in law school, he began writing fiction. His story 'Gold Coast' won a contest in the Atlantic
magazine, which gave him encouragement to abandon his law career. He is now a professor of English at the University of Iowa.