MahoganyBooks is proud to announce O.H. Bennett as the featured author of November's Meet the Author Book Signing & Author Talk. A resident of Fairfax, VA, O.H. Bennett's fourth novel, Recognition, represents a departure from his earlier works, characterized by rich depictions of African-American families rendered in quiet but powerfully charged prose. These qualities are present in Recognition, but with the addition of a twisting plot and thriller-like intensity.
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Join us as author O. H. Bennett discusses his newest title Recognition.
Thursday, November 6, 2014 @ 7:00 PM, South Bowie Branch Library, 15301 Hall Rd, Bowie, MD 20721
The emotionally charged story of a woman obsessed with finding a homeless man she glimpses on a street corner, who bears a powerful resemblance to the husband who disappeared from her life a decade earlier.
This fourth novel by O.H. Bennett represents a departure from his earlier work, characterized by rich depictions of African-American families rendered in quiet but powerfully charged prose. These qualities are present in Recognition, but with the addition of a twisting plot and thriller-like intensity.
Dana, a single-mother, is driving home one rainy evening when, as she passes a homeless panhandler, she recognizes the features of her long-absent husband. Warren Reynolds disappeared from Dana's life a decade earlier — his body mysteriously missing after a terrible auto accident from which a pregnant Dana was rescued. After glimpsing the man she believes might be her husband, Dana begins surreptitiously searching for him, and is plunged back into memories of the difficulties they were grappling with at the time of Warren's disappearance. She struggles with whether she can reveal her belief that her husband might be alive to her friends, her in-laws, and, most importantly, her son.
Masterful and psychologically penetrating, Recognition is a taut, engrossing work from a critically acclaimed author. Bennett, known for his terse style and vivid characters rooted in the mainstream of African-American experience, has put his rich, unique, and riveting storytelling talents on full display for all readers.
Advance Praise for RECOGNITION
"An absolutely golden ending...a novel you'll want to spend one more day with." —Terri Schlichenmeyer, "The Bookworm Sez" syndicated column
"This engaging literary thriller from Bennett...ratchets up the tension, and delivers satisfying revelations at the climax, revealing a humane and intriguing story of personal redemption." —Publishers Weekly
"The book explores a number of themes in 200 short pages: homelessness, loneliness and, above all, the unreliability of both eyewitness recognition and long-term memory — as Bennett puts it, 'how difficult it was to hold images in your head that time had decided you no longer needed.'...There’s a good deal of suspense and some nice twisty writing." —Kevin Allman, Washington Post
EXCERPT FROM RECOGNITION
I. The Long Bad Day
Sirens still frightened her. In the car, she looked around frantically, over one shoulder, then the other, for the source of the screaming. Someone was having a bad day, and a bad day, Dana knew, could last a long, long time. For nearly a mile, she had not put her foot on the gas, just eased off the brakes and allowed the car to inch forward. Rain fell sporadically, spattering her windshield and hood with hundreds of crystal drops. Though it was early in the evening, the clouds, in a wide palette of gray, made it seem later and added to her impatience. Slashing light and slashing sound cut through her car as another siren surged from behind and the cars in her rear mirror parted. Her heart jumped and she jerked the car to the side, feeling for the road’s shoulder, feeling the right-side tires crunch rocks.
The ambulance shook her car as it went by. The wind carried another brief drenching of rain, which ended as abruptly as it had started. She watched the progress of the red strobe light down the highway. The accident appeared to be a good mile or more away. She could see the red flickering against the sky’s gray ceiling. The light and the siren and the rain led her back to cracked glass, imperfect cubes of broken windshield in her lap, and the voice of the police officer. Ma’am? Ma’am? Hold on, we’re going to get you out of there. Dana eased off the brake and let her car roll. She picked up her cell phone to call her son Franklin as she had ten minutes ago, only to discover that she had let the batteries run down, as she had discovered ten minutes ago. She tossed the phone onto the passenger seat, where it bounced and fell to the floor. She hoped he would order pizza or go next door to Brenda’s. Dana was getting close to the accident now. The two lanes of southbound traffic were being herded into one. He would do his homework first. Never heard of a kid who wanted to do nothing but school work. At first, Dana was quite proud of him and his grades, but now it seemed he used the schoolwork to hide from people. He could disappear and not get
into any trouble because he was doing what he was supposed to be doing, and he could avoid everyone. He participated in no sports, no team activities. He did belong to a couple of after-school clubs that he never spoke of. He swam on Sundays. Just a bookworm, she thought. For some reason, when she thought of the word “bookworm,”
she pictured her son as he was newly born, pale and bald like larvae. Someone honked at her. She wasn’t keeping up with the slow procession.
The minutes passed, matched to the crawl of the traffic. The man in the car next to hers had been eyeing her, but turned his head when she looked his way.
The rain turned furious again. An oasis of light shone where the emergency vehicles had encircled the accident. There was a little black car with its front end completely caved in, its windshield a gap-toothed grin. A pickup truck was on its side. Another crumpled car faced the wrong direction. There was no way to glean what had happened from the current positions of the cars involved. The strobe lights of the emergency vehicles revealed plastic and glass shards scattered everywhere. The back of one ambulance was open and the white insides looked impossibly bright in contrast to the dark evening. Dana could lean to the passenger side and see people working in there. She saw a man pulling a piece of equipment from a shelf and another hand reaching. A woman stood outside the ambulance with her hands covering her face. Her bad day is just beginning.
Dana was aware her breathing had quickened. Little cubes of bloody glass. She saw her windshield crumble. The glass was in her lap, small crystals stained red were on her chest like crumbs, as if she had eaten glass. Her wet windshield reflected the light from the ambulance. Someone knocked on her window. We’ll get you out of there, lady. But this cop, covered in a clear raincoat, tapped her glass with a flashlight; his face was in a snarl. “Hey, move it along before I write you up.”
Dana had zoned out. Her face flushed. She mouthed I’m sorry to the officer, but risked one more glance. The woman at the back of the ambulance looked to be shouting something. I’m sorry, Dana imagined the woman saying.
Despite her headlights, the road was reflective black. The taillights of the car in front were pin sized. The rest of the commute looked to be easy. The trickle of emancipated cars left a lot of maneuvering room and everyone was making up time despite the rain. The traffic congestion didn’t return until the businesses flanking the road and the traffic lights in Yorkshire and Manassas Park held them up. Just two miles beyond the accident, the road was perfectly dry and the evening sky was considerably lighter, but bands of clouds were coming in. Ahead was the light to turn left on Liberia Avenue and then it was just three turns and four blocks to home. Traffic had tightened, so it was going to take two, maybe three, rotations of the light to get through the intersection.
On the concrete median stood a shambling, shaggy rag of a man. He held up a crumpled cardboard sign. He waited until the light turned red and began walking down the line of his captured audience. Even from her distance, Dana could see people rolling down their windows to hand him change or a dollar or two. She looked at her bag in the passenger seat, but did not reach for it. Why should she enable some alcoholic to continue his addiction? She was a schoolteacher; people should be rolling down windows to hand her money; at least she was trying to earn hers. She thought about school for the next couple of minutes. Then the turn arrow was green again and Dana let her car ease forward. By now she calculated she had been behind the wheel for an hour and twenty minutes.
She could feel herself growing tired and cranky the way her kids did when they hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. She flipped her visor down and looked in the make-up mirror. She told herself she wanted to see if she looked as tired as she felt. Her mind replayed parts of her day, especially when her principal had asked her to take the lead on the science fair. Dana had immediately demurred and Anne’s face had hardened. “I need to see my teachers involved in the school community,” she had said and walked away. I’m a single parent, she should have shouted after her, what time do I have?
The light turned red. Dana slowed to a stop and saw she was only eight cars back from the light. She could see the shaggy beggar a little bit better now. He had wild wires of hair sticking cactuslike from his beard and moustache. He was momentarily backlit by the red traffic light and looked as if his head was on fire. His sign read “Need change. Need a chance.”
Dana was immediately suspicious. The sign read like ad sloganeering. Repetition, consonance...fairly nice for a homeless addict. She had always wondered if beggars were authentic or just grifters too lazy or too smart to suffer through nine-to-fives like the rest of us.
He was working his way toward her. Come on light, turn green. Turn green. She repeated this mantra even as the driver two up from her dropped change into the beggar’s opened palm.
The shape in the next car waved him away. He held up his sign for the driver in front of Dana. That window came down.
Turn green. It turned.
He was handed what looked like two ones.
Dana eased off her brake. If the car in front would just go, she thought.
He raised his cardboard sign to his chest and came toward Dana. Rain fell. Dots speckled the sign. They tapped on her windshield. The driver in front of her finally released his brakes and moved. Dana stayed right on his tail, relieved.
She suppressed the urge to smile. As she passed the man, she looked up into his face just as he turned to go back to the beginning of his catwalk. Her breath caught. She turned to get a better look at that face. The car behind her came up tight so as not to miss the light and she had to make the turn. She looked back again, turning her shoulders. Her car climbed the tip of the median, then bounced down. Dana felt her hands trembling and tightened her grip on the wheel. She could only see the beggar’s back now. The rain finally decided to drop in force and the man on the median seemed to dissolve into it.
“My God. My God,” she said. She fought to control the wheel, then clamped a hand over her mouth. She couldn’t act, couldn’t think, having just looked into the face of her long-lost husband, thought dead these past nine years.
II. Have You Seen Me?
Her car rocked to a stop in the parking space in front of her town house. She left the motor running; her foot smashed the brake.
That was him.
She knew that face. It could be disguised by scraggly hair and road dust and the exhaust of thousands of cars...yet the face she knew was there, lined by whatever had happened to him between the accident and now. She knew that face. She had pressed her face to that face. She had made that face laugh and made it cry. She turned the key to start the car and heard a cutting grind from the already running engine. Reynolds. Did he know she had moved? Did he know they were here? Checking behind her, she stepped on the gas and the car jumped forward. “Shit.” She put it in reverse, but then slammed her brakes, causing the car to rock again on its chassis. This time she killed the engine, pulled her keys, and ran to her house. Inside, she called, “Frankie.” He did not like “Frankie” anymore. “They call me Frankfurter in school,” he had told her.
“Franklin!” She called his name a few more times before running out the front door and shutting it behind her. She ran two doors down to her friend Brenda’s. The door opened to Brenda’s smiling face.
“Come get some spaghetti. It’s just jar sauce, but we have some garlic bread.”
“I’m sorry, Brenda. Accident on 28.”
( Continued... )
© 2014 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, O. H. Bennett. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author's written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
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