In the title essay of this extraordinary keepsake of childhood in America, John Edgar Wideman pays fierce tribute to a complex mother who "used to dream me home safely by sitting up and waiting for me to stumble in." The young writer Bich Minh Nguyen remembers arriving in Michigan from Vietnam in 1975 and a classmate who said, "Your house smells funny," and Michael Parker recalls a sister's vivid -- and hilarious -- act of defiance on a particular North Carolina evening in 1971. These and many more intensely intimate memories make Dream Me Home Safely a collection as diverse and powerful as all of American letters.
In today's diverse society, it's no longer possible for an individual voice to capture a singular American view of childhood. Dissimilar experiences can each sound uniquely American, such as the stability of Patricia Elam's refreshingly functional family, in which "the only thing that distinguished us from the families on Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, and Father Knows Best... was our brown skin"; the quiet confusion of Michael Patrick MacDonald, who "decided that `normal' certainly meant something somewhere out there, beyond... where we lived"; or the poignant isolation of Nina Revoyr as the only Japanese child in Marshfield, Wis. This collection successfully gathers many voices, completing an impassioned picture of growing up in America. Thirty-four authors, including Chang-rae Lee, Alice Walker and John Edgar Wideman, lyrically portray their younger years. Each piece-whether describing the bluffs of Illinois, the movie houses of Paris, Tex., or Christmas in Alabama-illustrate how childhood informs adulthood. As Lisa Page writes, as we age, "the child remains, transcended, often denied, but there all the same, hiding beneath our business suits, our corporate uniforms, the camouflage we wear to communicate our grown-up selves." While most essays are magical, a few are forced and the flow of the anthology suffers from its alphabetical, rather than thematic, organization. But these are easily overlooked flaws in this beautiful compilation that proves that "childhood, of course, never ends." (Oct. 22) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.