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Fall 2002
Volume 39, No. 1
Issue Home

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PCMOnline Editor: Sarah Dolinar


The Colors of Childhood

The Color Midnight Made
By Andrew Winer, creative writing lecturer
Washington Square Press, 2002 • 258 pp. • $24.00

“They say I can’t see colors. They’re lying. I can see colors in people. Moms is yellow. Pops is camouflage. Our teacher Mr. Garabedian is tan like a weed. I got a color for everybody. Except me.”

So begins the first novel by Pomona creative writing lecturer Andrew Winer. The Color Midnight Made is the story of 10-year-old Conrad Clay, a white boy who lives in a primarily black part of the San Francisco Bay Area. He floats between an alcoholic and abusive father, a depressed mother, an aging and ailing grandmother, a best friend who is constantly pressured to stay away from him, and a school where he is one among only 14 white kids. Conrad takes on the common childhood task of setting out to fix his world, but like most of us, has to come to grips with the fact that he’s disadvantaged from the outset, in his case with color-blindness.

This helpful “ailment” allows Conrad to find some comfort in the family of his best friend, Loop, fitting in and finding security there even though he is white. When he finally is able to trust Loop’s older brother Midnight (and perhaps himself) Midnight shares with him a secret that changes Conrad’s life, in a beautiful revisiting of the idea of a blind person teaching a seeing person how to see.

The novel deals with race, class, friendship, growing up and family life, but more importantly, it offers a picture of urban life in its gritty, raw and stark reality, without judging. The ultimate message of the book is that no matter how grim or bleak it turns out to be, life must be faced.

What Winer does here is not unique, but how he does it may be. The novel is driven by a delightful, hilarious, and dreadfully frank voice, and the writing is careful and clear. Those readers who prefer plot-driven pieces will be disappointed by the book’s broad scope, but many will agree that Winer’s focus on voice is the only way to write an interesting and viable novel from a child’s perspective. This novel, like our memories of childhood, is a patchwork of scattered moments rather than a smoothly woven tale.

By far the most engaging aspect of the writing is the characters’ speech. Readers will find themselves alienated at first by the awkward bravado that fills Conrad’s own voice, but will soon learn to love it as they are drawn closer into the world Winer has created. Confident, brash, and yet charming, compassionate and hungry for life, Conrad Clay makes The Color Midnight Made a refreshing new take on the coming-of-age story.

—Joel Calahan ’04