Columnist's novel follows three generations

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJune 14, 2009 

  • Leonard Pitts Jr.

    Agate Bolden, 336 pages

We all know newspaper columnists, although we don't actually know them. You know?

They are like the friend who hears the good stuff first and shares the details over a cup of coffee. Columnists help us participate in the conversations of the day, sort our opinions and reflect on our values. And sometimes they write just what we were thinking.

So it is especially pleasurable for a reader to find such familiar names on books, not just passing commentaries. I greeted with anticipation the name of Leonard Pitts Jr. on his first novel, "Before I Forget."

The favorite (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) syndicated columnist has written for years about, well, whatever topic is at the top of his mind or whatever is going on in the world. He takes on social trends, pop culture, you name it.

Now, Pitts has translated his substantial storytelling skills into fiction. Through three generations of black men, this powerful novel develops themes of regrets, second chances, forgiveness and responsibility.

More important, the book is a compelling read. The plot unfolds around a multigenerational journey that is both a literal road trip and a figurative journey of travels through rural Mississippi in the 1940s, south-central Los Angeles in the 1950s, the soul music scene of the 1970s and present-day L.A., Las Vegas and Baltimore.

During a recent book tour, Pitts visited with student journalists about his career. He said he wanted to prompt the fiction reader to achieve a "willing suspension of belief" for his storyline.

After his presentation, he asked me, "Did you believe the ending?" I did (although I won't spoil the resolution for you). "Most people tell me they believe it," Pitts reported, "and then they add, 'But I wouldn't do it.'" (Now, that's teasing for you, isn't it?)

Want more? A collection of Pitts' columns, entitled "Forward From This Moment," will be published later this year.

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