Sunday, July 6, 2003

The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter

Shattering stereotypes

Byron McCauley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Yale University Law School professor Stephen L. Carter is known for his non-fiction tomes that center on ethics and morality (The Culture of Disbelief, Integrity), not fictional accounts. But in The Emperor of Ocean Park, Carter allows us a peek into the world of the African-American bourgeoisie - a secretive society that has been moneyed and influential for years.

Anyone smothered by racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes ought to read this book. Media bombard us with the fame and fortune of black athletes and entertainers. They do not show us the residents of Carter's Ocean Park, a community of Oak Bluffs in Martha's Vineyard, where blacks have been summering for years.

The story is told through Talcott Garland, who, like Carter, is a successful African-American law professor in an Ivy League school in the town of Elm Harbor. His father is a conservative judge once nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, but whose confirmation process - which aired much dirty laundry - buried the nomination.

Carter's work is not so much about race as it is about a highly successful American family who happens to be black. "Ours is a family, which, among people of our color, is a reference no less to social than to legal status," Talcott narrates. "Ancestors of ours were free and earning a living when most members of the darker nation were in chains."

Carter's social commentary is biting and enlightening at once: The Judge laments the fact that the Vineyard had "tumbled down hill" and that they "let everyone in now." Talcott's well-off, divorced, 40-something sister-in-law with no marriage prospects, "a pattern all too common in the darker nation as intermarriage, violence, prison, drugs and disease combine to decimate the pool of eligible males."

This is a work of fiction, but it certainly is not far from the truth.

Books that might have changed the world
Off With Their Heads, by Dick Morris
Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir
The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter
The Press Effect, by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman
A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
Letters to a Young Conservative, by Dinesh D'Souza

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