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Read Orrin's interview with Jim Black.

Jim Black's warm and wonderful first novel tells the story of a boyhood summer in Archer City, Texas in 1966. It takes its place proudly on the continuum of American classics of youth between Huckleberry Finn, with which it shares the dynamic of a friendship between a white boy and a black man, and the magic-tinged books of Ray Bradbury--Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes--Robert McCammon-- Boy's Life--and Dan Simmons--Summer of Night. Thirteen-year-old Jim Black lost his alcoholic father in an accident but finds an unlikely--given the times--father figure in Samuel Joseph Washington, a former Negro League player who lives by the Little Wichita River where they both like to fish. Sam--whose beloved wife, Rose, is a devout Christian-- teaches Jim his own theory of life:
"You see, it has just always felt to me like we're all floatin' in a big river...and the current's carryin' us along...some parts flowin' slow and easy--that's when times are good; and some parts are pretty rough--bad times for sure.

"The way I see it, we're all sort of born into it, and after that, we're on our own. What I haven't figured out is why some folks seem to spend most of their lives in the rough water. I been there, that's for sure. And I reckon there are times when the current's just too strong to escape. But sometimes, I think you can swim out of it, if you want to bad enough and try hard enough. Sometimes. And I believe we're put here for a reason. And we're supposed to find that reason somewhere along the way "
Helping Jim to navigate the river that season are his fast friends Gary Wayne Beesinger and Charles Luig. Together they get into all kinds of often very funny mischief, enjoy adventures, suffer misadventures and learn lessons about coping with tragedy, unrequited love, racism, and the various vagaries of life.

Mr. Black treads lightly on the racial angle, which is a relief, since we might otherwise just end up with another sermon on the evils of the American South. Likewise, he give us hints that the magic and monsters of our youthful imaginations lurk in the background of the tale, but he doesn't yield to the temptation to veer into Stephen King territory. These two sensible decisions serve to make a final scene work far better than it might have otherwise, as Jim experiences what can only be called a miracle, and we buy into it completely. This is a delightful book that deserves a wide readership and will surely make a terrific film one day.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Jim Black (4 books reviewed)
Young Adults
Jim Black Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Jim Black Books
    -BOOKSITE: Life with Bingo (Outskirts Press)
    -BOOK SITE: River Season
    -BOOK SITE: Miracle on the Gridiron (Outskirts Press)
    -VIDEO: Miracle on the Gridiron (YouTube)
    -GOOGLE BOOK : Miracle on the Gridiron
    -REVIEW: of Life with Bingo by Jim Black and Jim Lewis (The Dusty Jacket)
    -REVIEW: of River Season by Jim Black (Publishers Weekly)
    -ARTICLE: New book recounts Graves' tough love (Nick Gholson, Nov. 21, 2009, Times News-Record)
    -ARTICLE: Sports Spotlight: 1964 State Champs Archer City Wildcats Football Team (Jermaine Ferrell, 09/17 2014, Texomas)

Book-related and General Links: