The prodigal son always comes home - in life, in parable, and in literature. And he has returned once more in "Gabriel's Story," a haunting debut by David Anthony Durham.
In this incarnation, the wayward youth is a 15-year-old African-American boy in the empty middle of a continent, caught between youth and manhood, naivete and wisdom, family and flight.
Fleeing racism in Reconstruction-era Baltimore, Gabriel Lynch travels with his mother and younger brother to his stepfather's hard-scrabble homestead in 1870s Kansas.
The prodigal son begins his journey as another ends: "The boy had measured their progress across the land through the warped glass of the train's windows. He had seen it all unfurl, from the tidewater up over the broken back of the mountains, out onto rolling hills and into the old frontier, now pacified and peopled and farmed, and further still, through cities and small towns and finally out onto this great expanse, across which they traveled like fleas on a mammoth's back.... He searched in the land's dark contours for things he dared not name aloud, and he held within himself a rage of voices that to the outside world looked and sounded like silence."
Arriving at their new home, they immediately discover it won't provide all the relief they had hoped. "Life out here ain't being like a slave," Gabriel's stepfather, Solomon, tells the family, "but it's a might harder than the city life y'all been living, might harder than we knew 'fore we got here."