I just finished We’ve Got a Job this morning and, wow. I thought it was fantastic on a number of different levels. First, it’s focused, staying tightly on four main characters, James, Arnetta, Audrey, and Wash. Each of them help to pull out different threads of the struggle the black community in Birmingham faced, because of their different backgrounds and attitudes (Wash, for instance, had a real problem with nonviolence, while the other three were extremely committed to that ideal). Levinson does pull in contexts that will help the reader understand the background for the story, but she does so minimally, in one or two sentences. At the same time, it read like fiction in the sense of there being a plot, a conflict, a set of stakes. I will admit that it’s also extremely emotional–I got teary at least twice. Finally, one of the things I really appreciated was that Levinson was able to tie together what most of us experience as separate moments in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, namely the Children’s March in Birmingham, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and the March on Washington. But, going back to my earlier point, she is able to do this because her main characters had ties to all three of those events.
Reading back over that paragraph, it strikes me that I’m using the language of fiction, probably because Levinson is such a fantastic narrative writer. I should make it clear, though, that it’s also clearly a meticulously researched book.