Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: To Reach A Dream

Book Review: 'To Reach A Dream' by Nathan C. Heard

5 / 5 Stars

‘To Reach A Dream’ was published by Signet in July, 1973. The outstanding cover illustration is uncredited. 

While reading this review, it is very helpful to listen to 'Happiness is Just Around the Bend' (1974) by 'The Main Ingredient'. 

Nathan C. Heard (1936 - 2004) was born and grew up in poverty in Newark, New Jersey. As a young man he spent eight years in Trenton State Prison on an armed robbery charge, where, to pass the time, he read paperback novels. Heard was determined to be a writer, and in 1968, just one month before his release from prison, he published the novel ‘Howard Street’. It was a bestseller and brought Heard critical acclaim from literary figures.

Heard was a faculty member at Fresno State College, Rutgers University, before becoming a freelancer and a speechwriter to Newark mayor Kenneth Gibson. He had a supporting role as ‘Big Pink’ in the 1973 Blacksploitation film ‘Gordon’s War’.

Along with ‘Howard Street’ and ‘To Reach A Dream’, Heard published ‘A Cold Fire Burning’ (1974), ‘When Shadows Fall’ (1977), and ‘House Of Slammers’ (1983).

[All of these novels are, sadly, out of print, and used copies fetch very high prices.]

Heard wrote about ghetto life and its tribulations in a straightforward, clear prose style; in my opinion, his writing is superior to that of Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, and even Chester Himes. Much of the material in Heard’s novels is based on his own experiences, bringing a note of legitimacy to the dialogue, the plotting, and the exposition that you can’t find in other novels of the genre.

‘Dream’ is set in Newark the early 70s, and opens with straight-up Ghetto Action: an act of violence that will leave you wincing. 

In short order we are introduced to Bart Kedar Enos, the protagonist. Bart is young, black, good-looking, and ambitious. He’s also utterly self-centered and amoral.

Born and raised on Court Street on Newark, Bart is a modestly successful pimp, earning a living off his girlfriend Anita. But Bart has greater ambitions than to be just another striving hustler. He wants to reach the ranks of the major players, pimps like Po Bob, Hollywood, Chico, Longhair, Black Rudy, and Sugar Shaw, and to have his own Cadillac parked outside Danny’s nightclub. And he has a plan to achieve his Dream…..

Bart obtains a job as a live-in handyman to
Sarah Hamilton, a widowed, middle-aged black woman who ‘passes’ for white. It’s only a matter of time before Bart is doing a lot more for his boss than fixing the shelving in her mansion in the suburbs, and his work performance for Sarah is so…satisfactory….that soon he is enjoying access to the clothes and cars and financial security that makes real his Dream.

But things have a way of getting complicated….and in Bart’s case, the complications will force him to make some difficult decisions about himself, and world he seeks to escape.

Despite being only 156 pages long, ‘Dream’ is a more engrossing novel than the majority of novels - of any genre - I have ever read. It’s a classic of modern American realism, fully immersing the reader in the culture of the ghetto and its players. And while Bart Enos is by no means a hero, ‘Dream’ succeeds in making his attitudes and actions understandable to someone unfamiliar with the atmosphere of poverty and desperation that governs ghetto life.

Heard’s dialogue has the ring of authenticity, as in this conversation between two pimps:

“How that nigga get that babe to marry him ?” Hollywood asked in low tones.

Longhair stanced with his left arm akimbo. “Prob’ ly ate her pussy, that’s how." He pushed back his toupee which had slipped forward onto his forehead. “Betcha he won’t keep the bitch two months; she got too much class for a chump like him.”

Hollywood laughed, but seeing his chance for a dig at Longhair, said, “You eat pussy too, sucka. Louise told on you.”

“You tellin’ a muthafuckin’ lie if you say
I eat it – and Louise ain’t told you no such shit as that…..That who’e knew I’d kill her if she said some shit like that about me. If I don’t git it from the nut, baby, then I don’t need it.”

Hollywood’s teeth flashed brilliant. “Maybe that’s why she ran away from yo’ ass; maybe you shoulda ate some….” 

Unlike Heard’s other novels, all of which are out of print, copies of ‘To Reach A Dream’ can be found for reasonable prices (i.e., under $12). If you are a fan of ghetto fiction, or just good fiction per se, then getting a copy is a worthwhile decision.

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