by Stewart O'Nan Grove Press
268 pages, $24.00
"They take the early bus," Jesse Jackson said of his supporters in his two presidential campaigns of the 1980s. This sad and haunting novel is about the kinds of people riding that bus: telephone operators, baggage handlers, money counters at downtown banks, factory workers, waitresses. Stewart O'Nan's canvas is the inner lives of people who are often summed up by their outer lives, their jobs, the color of their skin. The novel weaves in and out of the minds of the residents of one block in an African-American neighborhood of Pittsburgh that is cut off from the rest of the city by a new busway built to ferry suburbanites to their city offices. "From the busway they can't see the streets, only the walls rising on both sides, just the tip of a steeple." Beyond those walls the struggles of the Tolbert family, with love and obligation, with hope and the end of hope, give shape to a plot that does not wholly unspool until the last sentence—about the most dramatic and poignant I have ever read.