There’s a little live-blogging happening in this review as I work my way through the book. The book is very very good, oddly not nearly as depressingly sad as I thought it would be (though very depressingly sad), and much more complex, nuanced, intelligent and erudite than what I thought the book was going to be based on the description. Not to say that I didn’t think Toni Cade Bambara was capable of such a book, but I just didn’t realize that’s the book I was picking up.
The book takes places mostly in 1980 in Atlanta during the child murders that killed 28 people, mostly children along with a few adults. It’s a focus of the second season of Mindhunter I believe, but I haven’t watched that yet, and it’s the focus of books by James Baldwin, Tayari Jones, and plenty of others. It’s also almost completely erased from the white mainstream consciousness, to the degree that I didn’t even know about these murders (which happened right around time of my birth) despite having family in Atlanta and visiting fairly often as a kid. I take responsibility for my own ignorance on the topic and am working to correct that now, but I really do believe that this is not a topic white people or white history really discusses much, and this book explores this in part.
The novel itself takes places mainly within a family where one of the children has gone missing — speculation is high on all fronts about what explains his disappearance. The mother and father believe he has been taken (they are not together any longer but spend weeks and weeks searching and protesting and agitating in the local movement), the police believe that his disappearance like most child disappearances is a runaway situation, something they inherently believe about missing Black children anyway, and want this to be true because of the burden it seemingly lifts from their shoulders.
The book also spends a few chapters in second person with you taking on the role of a mother waiting for her child to return home, only overdue by a few hours.
The reason the book is a little less known than many of the other texts on this subject is because Toni Cade Bambara died before publishing it and it becomes a project that Toni Morrison helped to bring to publication. The book is also very long (just under 700 pages) and while the text is heavy (gravity wise) and dense at times, the book is incredibly readable, but I think this combination of factors plus the politics of racism and sexism, and the erasure of these events in wider culture probably made this book less viable as a product.