When the biography of Chester Himes was published and received enthusiastic reviews, I was intrigued enough to see if I liked his work well enough to try the biography. So far, I am 1-1. I like mysteries that speak to social issues, and this one, thanks to the very evocative setting Himes provides, certainly does. This is not to say that one ends up sympathizing with the criminals here, but Himes, by quite literally boxing his characters into a neighborhood, into Harlem, makes the reader see why what follows is more than understandable. (Consider the opening scene of Native Son. When we see that rat, we understand something of Bigger’s desperation, I think.) We see why there is such rage, though I think the title plays on the word and suggests also, “all the rage.” What is fashionable, not just in terms of clothing, but con games? Part of the reason our protagonist gets in so much trouble, I think, is because he is a “square.” He’s far from being connected with anything that’s “all the rage.” He just doesn’t get it; it gets him instead. 1-2 more like this, and I will get that biography.
Charles Ellenbogen is the author of the teaching memoir, THIS ISN’T THE MOVIES: 25 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM, and teaches high school English in Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with Kirsten, his wife, Zoe, their daughter, Ezra, their son, Lincoln, their dog, and Chocolate Scales, their snake