Love story set in Harlem; Ludell's New York Time, by Brenda Wilkinson. New York: Harper and Row. $8.95.
"Ludell's New York Time" is the continuation of a love story begun in "Ludell and Willie." It is the latest of three novels chronicling the life of Ludell Wilson, whose story begins in the 1950s in "Ludell," Brenda Wilkinson's first novel. But it is the sights, sounds, and events of the '60s which form the backdrop for "Ludell's New York Time."
Just six weeks before high school graduation and their anticipated marriage, Ludell and Willie find themselves separated. The death of Ludell's grandmother, "Mama," has necessitated Ludell's leaving Willie and her hometown, Waycross, Ga. , to live with her long-absent mother, Dessa, in Harlem. She has every expectation that Willie will come North shortly after graduation and they will be married.
This dream helps her cope with being away from Willie, with her rather tenuous relationship with her mother, and with the totally different way of life in Harlem. While life in Waycross was rich in familiarity, community concern and sharing, firm belief, and traditional behavior, Ludell finds New York to be concrete, strangers, and excesses of every description. She discovers, however, that New York is other things as well. It is the Temptations "live" at the Apollo, subway rides, a warm church community, pizza, new friends, and the enticement of a college education. She finds it once scandalous, intriguing, attractive, and baffling.
As time and events unfold, she learns to cope with her new life but finds little support for her marriage plans. Dessa is opposed to the marriage, insistent the Ludell pursue a college education. Even Regina, the sophisticated teen-age daughter of Dessa's best friend, can't fathom Ludell's commitment to Willie. Ludell finds consolation in her letters to Willie, the poetry she writes, and music; but Willie's arrival is delayed again and again. When the worst happens -- Willie is drafted -- Ludell once again must face change and uncertainty.
Wilkinson has crafted a special kind of love story with wide-ranging appeal. The clash of Ludell's Waycross background with the Harlem of the '60s reveals the social fabric of both places, as Ludell shares her experiences with her friends, writes to Willie, and questions the manners and morals of New York life.
A number of people and events change Ludell: her attempts to understand and be understood by Harlem teen-agers; her experiences with racism in the New York job market; and her friendship with Carolyn, a young woman from a similar rural South background, whose concern for social change and evolving black identity are new to Ludell.
Though it is truly Ludell's story, Wilkinson has created a memorable group of supporting characters. Their speech, lifestyles, and aspirations are true to their varied backgrounds and circumstances. Dialogue is Wilkinson's forte, and she uses it with consummate skill. It is natural and convincing, an expression of her strongly defined sense of each of her characters. She combines this with a keen eye for detail and a carefully paced presentation of events to totally involve us with Ludell and her life.
Ludell Wilson is a warm, disarmingly straightforward, determined young woman who is deeply in love, and we are convinced that she is capable of meeting whatever challenges await her. Today's young readers will find her story a welcome addition to their reading lists.