by Mark Allen Boone
Clayton Hemphill, a longtime resident of a now newly gentrified African American Chicago neighborhood, isn't the only one to be profoundly affected by Luleta Jones. People either love or hate this regally self-possessed, artistic, and willful woman. So controversial is Luleta, she is fired from the Lincoln Manor Academy for the Arts in spite of her spectacular success with the students. And she may well have been murdered. Hemp turns Luleta's apartment into a museum to preserve her memory and cajoles Theophilous Pugh, an endearingly receptive and respectful community affairs reporter, into investigating her life and death. Although this cozy mystery about a free spirit brought down by jealousy and power struggles within a striving middle-class enclave is set in the late 1990s, Boone writes with an old-fashioned courtliness that can be plodding and disorienting. Yet Boone's mindful tale of a black community in uneasy transition does astutely dramatize class conflicts, celebrate the transforming nature of art, and decry the fact that our materialistic society trivializes art, beauty, and compassion. Donna Seaman
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Literature at its best, April 12, 2008
By Minnie E. Miller "Author & avid reader" (Chicago, IL) - See all my reviews
The Demise of Luleta Jones by Mark Allen Boone is an excellent literary novel.
The first chapter immediately tells of the suicide of Luleta Jones--an eccentric 39-years-old African American, public school teacher. Clayton Hemphill, a 75-year-old retiree and unwavering fan of Luleta, finds her body hanging from a rafter on the second floor of his 2-flat apartment building. Theophilous `Theo' Pugh, who tells the story through interviews, is an unrelenting reporter for the Chicago Weekly Word.
Theo comes to Lincoln Manor on the West Side of Chicago to profile the community and stumbles upon the story of Jones's suicide that had happened two years prior. He slowly uncovers how she died, power grabs by African American bourgeoisies, backstabbing, and family infighting. What becomes apparent is that Luleta was a person capable of seeing good in all people, a woman who believed that all human beings had worth. This caused love and hate relationships for the talented, self-confident, beautiful, independent woman. Theo's life is touched in startling ways. In his decision to put her life on paper, and in interviewing various members of the community, Theo falls in love with the deceased woman and is obsessed with her story. Could his obsession with Luleta cause Theophilous Pugh to lose his grip on reality?
Mark Allen Boone's methodical descent to the end is emotional, heartwarming and much unexpected. He is an excellent writer; his characters are so close to reality that you find yourself lost in each of their lives--so very true with the life of Luleta Jones. The Demise of Luleta Jones is indeed an excellent, fresh read. I hope to see more of his work in the near future.