This Professor Can Write!

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Book Review

When Lawrence Otis Graham published “Our Kind of People: Inside
America’s Black Upper Class” in 2000, many folks, for the first time,
became aware of the existence of a long-established Black elite in this

Graham found himself ostensibly ostracized by fellow members of that
snobbish set for not only having outed them by name, but for having
shared such family secrets such as where they live and vacation, what
exclusive organizations they belong to, and where they send their kids
to school and summer camp.

While that encyclopedic expose’ was certainly an informative Who’s Who,
it failed to give you much of a feeling for the mindset of the Black
bourgeoisie. Fortunately, Stephen L. Carter filled that void a few
years later, when he wrote The Emperor of Ocean Park, a murder mystery
which unfolded on Martha’s Vineyard, one of the aforementioned oases
frequented by the African-American aristocracy.

Carter, a Professor of Law at Yale University, is also the author of
seven nonfiction books, including the very thought-provoking
Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, The Culture of Disbelief,
and God’s Name in Vain.

With New England White, another whodunit among the copper-toned rich
and famous, he has really hit his stride as a novelist, having excised
the excess verbiage which some say marked The Emperor of Ocean Park.

That doesn’t mean he won’t still occasionally slip in some SAT
vocabulary (such as “abstemiousness,” “sinecure,” “dandling,”
“soteriology,” and “garrulous”) likely to have you reaching for the
dictionary, but simply that this crime caper is definitely more of an
absorbing page-turner. Of far more significance, however, is the
plausible picture Professor Carter paints of the Black upper class, a
group which the mainstream culture has historically demeaned as boorish
buffoons, from Kingfish “Holy mackerel!” Stevens to Judge Pigmeat
“Order in the court!” Markham to George “Movin’ on up!” Jefferson to
just about the entire cast of Soul Plane, a despicable movie about a
mythical Black airline company.

You won’t find any such insulting throwbacks in New England White, but
rather sophisticated and intelligent collection of accomplished
individuals. The tawdry tale takes place at an Ivy League school and
revolves around administrators Julia and Lemaster Carlyle, a very
powerful couple who were merely minor characters in The Emperor of
Ocean Park .

Needless to say, the plot thickens early on, soon after the Carlyles
stumble upon the body of an economics professor who just happens to be
an ex-lover of Julia’s. I’ll have to leave it here, since I would be
doing my

readers a disservice to divulge a word more of this delectable yarn best savored slowly over the summer.

Suffice to say that New England White is heartily recommended,
especially for avid fans of the mystery genre or for anyone curious
about how that other half of African-Americana lives.

Book Details: New England White. by Stephen L. Carter. Alfred A. Knopf

Hardcover, $26.95. 572 pages. ISBN: 978-0-375-41362-9


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