‘A Loaf Of Bread’ by James Alan McPherson

McPherson, James Alan 1972

A Loaf Of Bread by James Alan McPherson, 1972

The magic trick:

Setting up a classic, dramatic redemption scene only to turn the redemption on its head at the last moment

Dang, Jimmy Mack can write a good story. Really, he is absolutely one of America’s most underrated authors.

“A Loaf Of Bread” tells the tale of two men on opposite sides of a protest picket – Harold is the cause; Nelson is the effect. McPherson does a great job of developing their points of view. What is most impressive is the lack of straight lines through the plot. Nothing is as simple as it might seem.

This is most evident in the closing scene. It first appears that Harold’s decision to open his grocery up to the community is his redemption. But it’s not. Not at all. It turns out to be Nelson’s redemption, in a remarkable and stately bit of plotting. And that’s quite a trick on McPherson’s part.

The selection:

The grocer drummed his fingers on the countertop. He twisted his head and looked away, toward shelves containing cosmetics, laxatives, toothpaste. His eyes lingered on a poster of a woman’s apple red lips and milk white teeth. The rest of the face was missing.

“Ain’t no use to hide,” Nelson Reed said, as to a child. “I know you wrong, you know you wrong, and before I finish, everybody in this city g’on know you wrong. God don’t like ugly.” He closed his eyes and gripped the cup of coffee. Then he swung his head suddenly and faced the grocer again. “Man, why you want to do people that way?” he asked. “We human, same as you.”

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