The compelling fiction, The Emperor of Ocean Park, by author Stephen L.
L. Carter The New York Times has called him one of the nation's
leading public intellectuals.
Born in Washington, D.C., Stephen L. Carter studied law at
Yale University and went on to serve as a law clerk for Supreme Court
Justice Thurgood Marshall.
In 1982 he joined the faculty at Yale. His critically
acclaimed nonfiction books on subjects including affirmative action, the
judicial confirmation process, and the place of religion in our legal and
political cultures have earned Carter fans among luminaries as diverse as
William F. Buckley, Anna Quindlen, and former President Bill Clinton.
Carter disputes the old myth that African-Americans born with silver spoons in
their mouth have it easy in life. Mr. Carter's honest, in-depth detailing of
upper-class black American lifestyles brings to light the fact, regardless of
privilege, well-to-do is not all it is cracked up to be. Seems that affluent
blacks still have to contend with racism, jealousy, temptation, defeat and
overdue bills. Their husbands and wives do cheat, lie and manipulate. The
parents hide secrets, and friends are not always friends. Incest occurs,
accidents happen, and loathing runs rampant among peers.
The main character and narrator is Talcott "Misha" Garland, the son of Judge
Oliver Garland, who was once nominated for a Supreme Court seat. Talcott leads
us on a journey of how a well-bred, well-educated, proud and sometimes cynical
man struggles with his insecurities, guilt, family, loyalty, love and loss.
Caught up in a one-sided marriage with Kimberly "Kimmer" Madison, a power
driven, snobbish, bratty attorney that makes three times the salary he does as a
law professor, Talcott struggles to maintain the image of the dutiful husband,
and fight off thoughts of her infidelity and distant love.
When the Judge is found dead in his study, Talcott finds himself hounded for
"the arrangements" his father left behind in his care. The problem is, Talcott
doesn't know what they consist of either. Trying to unravel the past of a
father, whose powerful shadow comes crashing down upon him, Talcott is forced to
re-evaluate the individuals surrounding him who are hungry for revenge and power
. . . people whom he once admired, and a few he loathed, most of them very
wealthy, very white, and very determined to have their way.
Mariah Garland, Talcott's rich sister has her own theory as to what is
happening, believing their father has been murdered for secrets he held.
Addison, the oldest brother, who hosts a radio talk show, avoids it all, keeping
what he knows to himself.
In a world that is hidden to most, Mr. Carter gives very descriptive glimpses of
Martha's Vineyard, including the "Inkwell, an enclave for the black elite," an
imaginary city called "Elm Harbor," and celebrity-strewn Aspen, Colorado. His
dead-on dramatization of how careers, greed and self-righteousness affect all
people, regardless of their race is an eye-opener. Carter's examination of the
indignities that upwardly mobile African Americans must endure to survive in a
predominately white world is a subject seldom discussed and he is to be
commended for his even handed treatment, and for choosing to bring this issue to
In some instances he is a little wordy. I could have done without all the
mention of papers, periodicals and files that surrounded his sister during her
search for information and the over-kill of certain images. I did enjoy the way
Carter chose chess to motivate his story. The language of the game was
fascinating and the correlation to life astonishing. He sums it up quite nicely
with his father's belief, " . . . white moved first, white usually won, black
could only react to what white did, and even if black played a perfect game he
still had to wait for white to make a mistake before he would have any hope of
winning . . ."
In my opinion, Mr. Carter wrote a winner . . . in more ways than he probably