D’Ray Reid is back in Brownsville. In this sequel to his previous book, A Life for a Life, Louisiana writer Ernest Hill continues the story of the Reid family of Brownsville, La.
In the earlier book, young and angry black man D’Ray Reid, product of a broken home - his father is in prison at Angola - kills a store clerk by accident during a robbery. He is caught. He is sent to a juvenile prison for six years, and while he is there, he becomes a surrogate son to Mr. Henry, the father of the young man killed in the robbery.
As this book opens, Mr. Henry has just died and his funeral is over. Miss Big Siss, Mr. Henry’s sister, comes over to Mr. Henry’s house to talk to D’Ray. She tells him Mr. Henry has left his house and his pickup truck to D’Ray, who by now has finished his college education. Eleven years have passed, years in which D’Ray has not been to Brownsville nor had any contact with his family there.
Miss Big Siss, who also has come to love D’Ray like a son, tells him he has to go back to patch things up with his mother.
“Life is short,” Miss Big Siss said, “even when it is long.”
When D’Ray goes back to Brownsville, he finds he is unwelcome. His little brother, Curtis “Little Man” Reid, a model citizen, has run afoul of the law. He’s been arrested for breaking into a house and attempting to rape a white woman.
Although he protested his innocence, Little Man is convicted. While being held at the Brownsville jail, Little Man escapes. The white police chief and his brutal black deputy, Pete, are out trying to find him.
D’Ray’s mother, Mira, blames him for the bad things that have befallen his younger brother, even though he hasn’t seen him in 11 years.
“You couldn’t rest,” she tells D’Ray, “You couldn’t rest until you got him in the streets. Well, now the streets got him and ain’t nothing you or nobody can do about it.”
D’Ray, as hot-tempered and impulsive as ever, vows to find out the truth and exonerate his brother. But first he has to find him.
Against his mother’s wishes, D’Ray sets off on his quest. Along the way he encounters crooked cops, backstabbing friends, drug users, an old love and a man of God who is the most admirable character in the story.
Hill has set five of his six novels in the north Louisiana town of Brownsville, close to the Arkansas line. It’s country Hill knows well, he grew up in Oak Hill. He portrays the racial tensions of a small town in the delta with accuracy informed by experience. Even as he exploits the themes of poverty, history and race as obstacles to success in Family Ties, he develops a simultaneous story line about corruption among officials and what motivated the powers that be to frame his Little Man character for a crime he didn’t commit.
Hill’s plot isn’t always fluid, it sometimes moves jerkily from one plot development to another. His characters sometimes seem exaggerated and oversimplified ? the bad guys too bad, the good guys too good - but the complications are compelling and the characters are engaging. The ending is satisfying.
Hill has some positive insights to offer about familial relations, race, poverty, faith and education, and he is not boring and preachy while offering them. He includes a readers’ guide at the back of the book with suggested discussion questions and topics.