‘The Lookout’ by Cyrus Colter


The Lookout by Cyrus Colter, 1970

The magic trick:

Using the protagonist’s social identity crisis as a means of offering a snapshot of the African-American middle class of the late 1960s

Very similar to a couple of Jessamyn West stories we featured earlier in the year. If nothing else, “The Lookout” serves as a social roll call, listing a variety of types from the late 1960s African-American middle class and their various motivations and measurements of success. It exhausts, frightens, and depresses the protagonist. It’s a fascinating document of social history for the reader. And that’s quite a trick on Colter’s part.

The selection:

The impulse to leave gripped her, but she tried to ignore it. She leaned forward and glanced at her face in the rearview mirror, and then sat back, absently pulling at a ravel in her glove. She knew if she left now she’d miss seeing Janice arrive – lucky Janice home from New York just to be feted by the elite. Was this the same girl who grew up with Mildred, stayed whole weekends at her house, and so often double-dated with her? Janice had roomed with her all during their junior and senior years at Illinois. She knew Janice had been in Chicago since Tuesday; last year when she came home she’d at least phoned. How callous could you get? But her husband was a successful publisher, and husbands were the key to everything.

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