Nathan McCall's novel, Them, tells a compelling story set in a downtown Atlanta neighborhood known for its main street, Auburn Avenue, which once was regarded as the "richest Negro street in the world."
The story centers around Barlowe Reed, a single, forty-something African American who rents a ramshackle house on Randolph Street, just a stone's throw from the historic birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Barlowe, who works as a printer, otherwise passes the time reading and hanging out with other men at the corner store. He shares his home and loner existence with a streetwise, twentysomething nephew who is struggling to get his troubled life back on track.
When Sean and Sandy Gilmore, a young white couple, move in next door, Barlowe and Sandy develop a reluctant, complex friendship as they hold probing -- often frustrating -- conversations over the backyard fence.
Members of both households, and their neighbors as well, try to go about their business, tending to their homes and jobs. However, fear and suspicion build -- and clashes ensue -- with each passing day, as more and more new whites move in and make changes and once familiar people and places disappear.
Using a blend of superbly developed characters in a story that captures the essence of this country's struggles with the unsettling realities of gentrification, McCall has produced a truly great American novel.
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Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the book's title. What is its meaning? How is the word "them" used throughout the novel, and in what ways does its significance change?
2. This book is divided into three parts. Why do you think Nathan McCall chose this structure?
3. Though their differences are obvious, what characteristics do Sandy and Barlowe share? In spite of different worldviews that complicate their relationship, why do you think these two are ultimately able to bond?
4. "If Barlowe could have assembled the words that reflected his knowing, he might have said something like this: 'Between two people with perceptions shaped by realities as alien as ours, some things really are inscrutable; one person's truths can transcend another's language, rendering them utterly incapable of seeing eye to eye'" (p. 225). What does this mean? Do you agree?
5. Though the overarching conflict of the novel may be between the blacks and the whites who inhabit the Old Fourth Ward, some discord emerges within each race as well. In what instances do stereotypes inspire misunderstandings among residents of the same race?
6. Were you surprised to discover that Sean turned The Hawk in to the police? Do you think his action was justified?
7. Though Viola's official cause of death was liver failure, people in the neighborhood assumed she died of heartbreak after The Hawk mysteriously disappeared. Do you believe Sean is therefore im see more