<B>A slave's quest for freedom</B>Overwhelming acclaim greeted David Anthony Durham's debut novel, <I>Gabriel's Story</I>, which inspired comparisons to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. How does his sophomore effort measure up? <B>Walk Through Darkness</B>, Durham's second novel, matches, even surpasses, his first on every level. A lover of history, Durham takes the prickly topic of American slavery and carefully dissects it through the eyes of two leading characters: William, a fugitive slave, and Morrison, his relentless, mysterious pursuer. Durham's book uses the plight of William, who flees bondage in Maryland, to show the human toll of slavery as he follows the trail of his pregnant wife, Dover. In this uncertain time before the onset of the Civil War, William pushes himself to the limits of his endurance to get to freedom and to his wife, swimming the hazardous waters of the Chesapeake, braving the wilds, keeping one step ahead of his trackers and their dogs. Durham, an expert at describing his scenes in cinematic detail, is careful not to employ a broad brush in depicting either his black or white characters during this grueling journey through violent territory. The realism of the intricately evoked scenes and the humanity of his characters lift the novel above other historical fiction.
When William's first try for freedom fails after he is betrayed by Oli, a former slave working as a decoy with the trackers, the fugitive is beaten, humiliated and led away in chains. But the harsh scenes of violence and cruelty are tempered with brief glimpses into the interior world of the slaves, who survive the barbarity of their existence by holding on to the few precious moments of joy they experience with family members and friends who have not been sold. It is that love that compels William on his perilous quest, with Morrison right on his heels.
Upon reaching the North and freedom, nothing is as he expected, neither freedom, the black life there nor his beloved Dover who has matured emotionally and spiritually. Complex, brilliantly written and deeply engaging, <B>Walk Through Darkness</B> shows a young novelist building on his formidable narrative gifts to produce a powerful work of historical fiction. <I>Robert Fleming is a writer in New York</I>.