"Carter had finished Such Sweet Thunder in 1963, but by 1970 he had given up trying to find a publisher for it. Most unpublished manuscripts stay that way for a reason; Such Sweet Thunder is an exception. The novel . . . is a dense and vibrant portrait of African-American life at the nation's crossroads. Carter's choice of period is felicitous. The Kansas City that he describes is in its bustling, bloody heyday, a town where gangsters are gunned down in the streets, Joe Turner plays on the radio, and children wander home past overrun soup kitchens, clanging streetcars and nightclubs with names like Dante's Inferno. With his fastidious attention to urban detail . . . Carter even resembles another, more famous expatriate, James Joyce. But the novel's real achievement is in its evocation of Amerigo Jones's childhood and his interaction with his parents, Rutherford and Viola, themselves only teenagers when their son's life begins. . . . Carter is in essence a celebratory writer, not a voice of protest, and the thunder that sounds in his novel is meant to evoke the storm of sensation that illuminates American life. . . . Such Sweet Thunder belongs with other enduring documentaries of the dispossessed, like Cormac McCarthy's Suttree or Langston Hughes's novel Not Without Laughter." — New York Times Book Review
"The book takes us into its arms and transports us back in time to a racially segregated Kansas City in the late 1920s. . . . Seamlessly, gently, Such Sweet Thunder carries Amerigo and us through adolescence, first love and the edge of world war and its sad demands on the safe, secure world Amerigo had come to love. . . . Carter connects all of our childhoods to Amerigo's, while making us feel intensely what made his childhood - Carter's childhood, presumably - as special as it was. The book does his memory proud. And gives our present time a priceless heirloom. The novel arrives late. But it lives." — Newsday
"The story behind Such Sweet Thunder is almost as captivating as the extraordinary tale told within its pages . . . A rousing, inspired work, keenly observed and soulful . . . The novel sparkles with life, soaring with the loose flow of a jazzy improvisation. More akin in style to Charles Dickens than Richard Wright or James Baldwin, Carter writes prose that tingles with detail . . . Racism certainly stings Amerigo's life, as he finds his opportunities limited by prejudice. But Carter's characters are not, to borrow a famous phrase from Zora Neale Hurston, ‘tragically colored,’ and this frees Amerigo's story from getting mired in a woe-is-me pity party. . . Ambitious and resonant, Such Sweet Thunder often achieves brilliance; at its best, it has the kinetic energy of an August Wilson play. . . . This is a rich addition to our literary understanding of the 20th-century African-American experience." — Boston Globe
"Originally written in 1963 and shelved, this hefty, astonishing novel by a black American expatriate who died in 1983 tells — in electric modernist vernacular prose — the story of a black child's life in Jim Crow America. . . . Through a steady accumulation of detail, sustained lyricism, flights of fancy and, especially, reams of swinging dialogue, Carter paints an uncommonly rich picture of black American family life in the early 20th century. Like the composition it is named for, a Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tribute to Shakespeare, it is a marvelous blend of jazz rhythms and high literary tradition. — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This diamond in the rough is an extraordinarily honest and compassionate child’s-eye view of a world too seldom seen in American fiction." — Kirkus Reviews
Readers will appreciate Such Sweet Thunder’s dreamy, nostalgic quality and lyrical writing, which evokes urban life before the war and offers a stirring portrait of a young boy growing up. — Booklist (starred review)
Infused with the sounds and spirit of Kansas City jazz, the author’s gritty style was ahead of its time. — Library Journal
"A colossal work of fiction . . . Sprawling and searching, it is Dickensian or even Joycean in scope. Carter's rendering of Amerigo's journey to adulthood is masterful. . . . Carter's greatest triumph is his dreamlike depiction of Amerigo's childhood mind and soul. Few writers have captured that strange, off-kilter, almost mystical feeling of what it is like to exist on this planet as a preadolescent. . . Carter gets it right because he laces the waters of innocence with bracing shots of guilt, confusion and pain. His Amerigo roams downtown Kansas City, finding adventure, yes, but also the misadventure of falling in with a bad crowd of kids, and, worse yet, the discovery of violence within himself: The passage in which the boy unleashes his cruelties upon a kitten is hard to read, indeed -- but also rings terribly true. Of all the novels about boyhood I've encountered, I can think of only one that achieves Carter's level of fearless mimesis: Roddy Doyle's tender-brutal Paddy Clarke Ha-Ha-Ha. Another extraordinary aspect of this book is its refusal to pin all its hero's troubles on racism. . . . Amerigo's reactions to his world constitute a deeply moving experience for the reader. Obviously, there is anger here -- but also tremendous love in the familial passages. And Amerigo's longing, his quest for an existence more meaningful than the one his world begrudges him, is both beautiful and wrenching. Such Sweet Thunder is a soulful, haunting book. . . . Readers seeking a comparative way into this novel might think of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man or Langston Hughes' Not Without Laughter. Such likenesses are valid thematically but not stylistically; both Hughes and Ellison were more direct. Such Sweet Thunder, following Amerigo about in his wanderings, seems closer to James Joyce's Ulysses, and also displays a kinship to Charles Dickens at his most expansive. . . . This novel is not only a Bildungsroman but also a road map -- an atlas that points the way to both the heartland and the human heart. — Kansas City Star
An unapologetically literary effort with echoes of Faulkner, Twain and Joyce. . . . For its lyrical rendering of a time and place long vanished, this is a book to savor, slowly. — Entertainment Weekly
Fans of Toni Morrison or William Kennedy will appreciate Carter’s style, and history buffs will be fascinated by a Kansas City that may have otherwise gone unsung. — Midwest Living Magazine
A spiraling and powerful account of African American life in Kansas City during the 1920s and 1930s. Carter paints a rich, jazz-like portrait of pre-World War II life in Black America. . . . By fusing the best European modernist literary traditions with African American ones, Carter weaves a colorful, distinctive tapestry of a seminal period in African American history. — Seattle Skanner
" Such Sweet Thunder is Carter’s Portrait of the Artist. . . . Amerigo Jones — the name itself speaks of discovery and bold hop — is Carter’s stand-in in the novel . . . Dedicated to musical giant Duke Ellington, the book is a jazz mix of sounds and sensations – the phonograph in the living room, the slamming of screen doors up and down his alley, trams clacking down the boulevard, the rhythms and rhymes of his young parents’ enthusiastic speech (“I was standin’ pat in ma gray bo-back, Jack!”). Amerigo as a child and young man is thirsty for the world, and we drink it all in with him. . . . A certain diamond-in-the-rough feeling only adds to the joy of discovering a book that spent far too long on a shelf in Switzerland.” — Rain Taxi
"Carter bridges Zora Neale Hurston's folkloric narratives and Toni Morrison's communal spirituals. In reading Carter's intermittently brilliant narrative of black boyhood and adolescence in the Jazz Age and on through the Depression and Second World War, one is not treated to a dysfunctional "ghetto," nor a liberal oasis of zebra-colored neighbors, friends and family. Instead, Carter depicts, painstakingly, a mainly black, urban community that is close-knit, organic and striving for uplift. In his Kansas City, MO., setting, black life ain't easy, but it has its passions, satisfactions and inspirations. . . .
"Few works of legitimate fiction are so insistently frank about a boy's proto-sexual, innocent but instinctive yearnings. Fundamentally Romantic, even wholesomely naive, this Bildungsroman idealizes male desire to the point that when, as a young man, Amerigo fails to win his ferociously chaperoned brown bourgeois sweetheart, Cosima, he prefers celibacy to the available charms of her obtainable rival. . . .
"Carter Musters profound empathy and warmth for all his characters, especially Amerigo's parents, Rutherford and Viola, who are self-sacrificing, loyal, contradictory, loving, bawdy and philosophical. Carter's creations evade stereotype because they seem modeled on people he knew in true-grit Missouri and whom he recollected later in Swiss tranquility. . . .
"Carter's novel continues to make noise - and subtly subversive music. Its survival, after so much neglect, is its triumph.” — National Post (Canada)
“Some critics have speculated that publishers rejected this book because its gentle coming-of-age tale, partially based on Carter's own life, was at odds with the fiery black-power rhetoric of the '60s. If that's true, publishers missed this book's quiet but unflinching condemnation of a society that rejects bright, eager black children.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Carter’s work was simply ahead of its time. . . . the book is becoming a major literary milestone, and deservedly so. What if the manuscript, and Amerigo Jones with it, had disappeared without a trace? Try to imagine the American literary landscape without Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. Or picture the jazz scene if Charlie Parker fell at age 24 instead of 34.” — Jazz Ambassador Magazine
“It is seldom that one comes across a book that dazzles and surprises, a book that will surely withstand the test of time. Such Sweet Thunder is such a book. . . . Not since reading Henry Roth's rediscovered masterpiece, Call it Sleep, has this writer encountered a book which so viscerally conveys the sensibility and environment of a young protagonist rooted in family while at the same time opening to the grand and thrilling world around him. . . . A dreamer and a stargazer, Amerigo Jones is a character and an eye-on-the-world to stand beside the more angry and alienated protagonists of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Carter's contemporaries and fellow expatriates. Perhaps Carter's onomatopoeic use of language and punctuation, his deep immersion in the sensuousness of life, his skilled use of dialect to reflect on class in society, his unexpected changes of scene, inserting stunning set pieces into the text, like gems, or contemporary song lyrics, like flashes of insight, and maybe even the sheer volume of his prose put off editors forty years ago. Perhaps it was racism that stood in his way, but racism is not Carter's subject here. Rather, it is the glories of his race that he celebrates” — Santa Fe New Mexican
Missouri spawned Huck Finn . . . and now it will have Amerigo Jones too. — Speakeasy
[A]n unapologetically literary effort with echoes of Faulkner, Twain, and Joyce. Thunder isn't exactly beach reading. Still, for its lyrical rendering of a time and place long vanished, this is a book to savour slowly.
Most unpublished manuscripts stay that way for a reason; 'Such Sweet Thunder,' which was discovered by an editor at Steerforth Press, is an exception. The novel has its share of technical hurdles, but patient readers will be rewarded with a dense and vibrant portrait of African-American life at the nation's crossroads. Carter's choice of period is felicitous. The Kansas City that he describes is in its bustling, bloody heyday, a town where gangsters are gunned down in the streets, Joe Turner plays on the radio, and schoolchildren wander home past overrun soup kitchens, clanging streetcars and nightclubs with names like Dante's Inferno. With his fastidious attention to urban detail -- to ''the smell of sweat and bottled liquor, fish grease, barbecue and beer … the penetrating odor of sour wine and meat markets; of spices and fresh and cured meat; of cheeses, sour cream in wooden buckets … of shoes and glue and … pollinating trees -- cottonwood, maple, walnut, oak, fruit trees, tomato vines, grapevines'' -- Carter even resembles another, more famous expatriate, James Joyce. But the novel's real achievement is its evocation of Amerigo Jones's childhood and his interaction with his parents, Rutherford and Viola, themselves only teenagers when their son's life begins. — Whitney Terrell
Written in 1963 and shelved, this hefty, astonishing novel by a black American expatriate who died in 1983 tells-in electric modernist vernacular prose-the story of a black child's life in Jim Crow America. In France during WWII, soldier Amerigo Jones thinks back on his youth in the 1920s and '30s in a black community resembling the author's native Kansas City. At first, the members of his extended family are presented as a chorus of voices fading in and out: his lovely, luxury-craving mother, Viola; his stern, dapper bellhop father, Rutherford; his grandmother and a bevy of aunts. After this short stream-of-consciousness section, the novel settles into a fluent, easy chronological narrative weighted toward the dreamy, determined Amerigo's early childhood, but stretching all the way to his graduation from high school. Through a steady accumulation of detail ("Five o'clock. Supper: hot dog sandwiches, salad, and beer for them and strawberry soda-pop for him"), sustained lyricism ("Fat round A's, B's, and C's spread out over the ruled spaces of his mind"), flights of fancy ("And he was the Swan Prince! `Wauk! Wauk!' He cried plaintively, his heart beating violently") and, especially, reams of swinging dialogue (" `A man reads this paper an' gits fightin' mad! Waitaminute!' "), Carter paints an uncommonly rich picture of black American family life in the early 20th century. Like the composition it is named for, a Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tribute to Shakespeare, it is a marvelous blend of jazz rhythms and high literary tradition. (Apr. 15) Forecast: Carter may be neglected, but he has never been entirely forgotten. An essay on his only previously published work, The Bern Book: A Record of the Voyage of the Mind, about his life as the only black man in Bern, Switzerland, was included in Darryl Pinckney's Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature (2002). This novel could very well spark a revival of interest in this underappreciated writer. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Carter's coming-of-age novel, set in the African American community of Kansas City, MO, in the 1920s and 1930s, was completed in 1963 but not published until 2003, 20 years after Carter's death. This new paperback edition, a revision that restores material deleted from the 2003 text, is tightly (or narrowly) focused on the childhood and adolescence of Amerigo Jones. Everything is filtered through Amerigo's consciousness, and the larger issues of the day-voting rights, segregation, and lynchings-are reflected in the opinions of the adults that Amerigo encounters in his neighborhood. The book is obviously autobiographical, and Carter's memory is prodigious, conjuring up the pungent smells of the food, the scratchy sounds of Bessie Smith and Fats Waller recordings, and the faded colors of an old dress. The mood of nostalgia is overwhelming, and for readers with ties to this time and place, the emotional impact will be profound. However, the thick layering of detail stalls the pace of the narrative. The result is a sensory feast but a very slow read. Appropriate for regional collections, whether public or academic.-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Evoking African-American childhood uniquely and on a grand scale, Carter's long-vanished magnum opus, for which he first sought a publisher in 1963, finally finds its worthy way into print 20 years after his death. Amerigo Jones is a young and innocent black soldier in France during WWII, when the prospect of spending a night of guard duty with a willing French girl triggers a memory of the one he left behind in Kansas City, and all his childhood comes washing over him like a riptide, pulling him back. From the beginning, his family and neighbors had special plans for him; although they lived in one of the poorest (but integrated) parts of the city during the middle of the Depression, Amerigo was brought up by his hardworking mother and father, Viola and Rutherford-only 16 themselves when their baby was born-to do the right thing. Being left alone all day while still too young to go to school did result in a day of misadventure, culminating in a trip with a gang of other kids to a soup kitchen, but when school began Amerigo took to it like a pearl to an oyster. With many of the same teachers his parents had, he impresses people, including the editor of the weekly black newspaper, whom he tells that he wants to grow up to be president. As years pass and many of the neighbors move on, he and his family remain, never far from the edge of poverty but still proud. Amerigo, a witness to murder, mayhem, and every seamy side of human nature, alters his vision of the future somewhat while still aiming high. But when he gets to high school-as the drums of war beat ever louder-he learns the bitter limits of his ambition. In need of some editorial trimming and polishing, perhaps, but this diamond inthe rough is still an extraordinarily honest and compassionate child's-eye view of a world too seldom seen in American fiction.