On a Friday night in July 1979, the first victim in what would come to be called the Atlanta Child Murders disappeared. Over the course of two years, more than 40 African American children would die--abused, mutilated, strangled--before an arrest in 1981 apparently settled the issue. Wayne Williams, a black man, was accused, tried, and convicted of the murders, and the good citizens of Atlanta breathed easy again, assured that the crimes had not been racially motivated after all, and that the criminal was behind bars.
Or was he? In her posthumously published novel, Those Bones Are Not My Child, Toni Cade Bambara revisits the summer of 1980 and suggests a chilling alternative:
The terror is over, the authorities say. The horror is past, they repeat every day. There've been no new cases of kidnap and murder since the arrest back in June. You've good reason to know that the official line is a lie. But you sweep the walk briskly all the way to the hedge, as though in clearing the leaves you can clear from your mind all that you know. You'd truly like to know less. You want to believe. It is 3:23 on your Mother's Day watch. And your child is nowhere in sight. The protagonist of Bambara's novel is Marzala Rawls Spencer, an African American mother of three who is managing--just--to raise her family, hold down three jobs, and attend night school. When her 12-year-old son, Sundiata, doesn't return from a camping trip, Zala finds herself plunged into the nightmarish possibility that he has become the latest victim in the series of murders rocking the "City Too Busy to Hate." As she and her estranged husband, Spence, frantically attempt to discover what has happened to their child, the book takes them through the complicated morass of politics, race relations, and class that bedevil Atlanta--and perhaps obstruct the search for the true killer.
Bambara worked on Those Bones Are Not My Child for 12 years before her death in 1995. Toni Morrison edited the manuscript for publication, and though the occasional rough edge shows through, the well-drawn characters and inherent human drama in this stranger-than-fiction tale overcome its minor weaknesses. This is the novel Toni Cade Bambara will be remembered for, and rightly so. --Alix Wilber