Snatch: The Adventures of David and Me in Old New York

by Charles Fuller

David and Me Publishing Company, Philadelphia, PA | 2010 | 176 pages | $14.95

Reviewed by Herb Boyd

charles fuller photo

As in his award-winning play, A Soldier's Play, which ultimately became the movie, A Soldier's Story, Charles Fuller enticingly weaves history and mystery together in Snatch, his first children's book or novella.

Lovers of New York's history, particularly the ante-bellum period, will flip the pages in wonder, marveling in what will happen to the two black brothers who set out in defiance of their parents' admonitions about nighttime travel to help a runaway slave.

It is a time of slave catchers and the two brothers are as much seeking the runaway as they are artfully dodging the bounty hunters and outmaneuvering a gaggle of characters that could be escapees and rejects from the books of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. Their names alone are enough to terrify and astound.

The legendary Five Points section of New York is accurately evoked, though those less familiar with the environs may be baffled by the flight of the boys through a veritable labyrinth of streets, buildings, and sewers.

Even so, those familiar with New York's history—and many readers will be astonished to learn that slavery in the state and the city rivaled some southern cities in the number of African captives—will be delighted to know that David Ruggles, the great abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor, is among the key players.

And those even more informed of the city's history, will guess who Freddie the runaway is long before it is revealed at the book's end

Fuller had promised to write the story for his sons many years ago, and he may have found a completely new and vastly rewarding métier for his unlimited creativity and imagination. The indication that this is Volume I suggests that more is to come and the corridors and regions of the city cry out for exposition, especially if the two adventurous brothers are our tour guides.

The book is replete with bibliography, Endnotes, and an Afterword. There is even a smidgeon of glossary, which is helpful given Fuller's tendency to be linguistically consistent with the era.

If there is one drawback, it's the redundancy of location and streets. A wider swath of New York City would have given the book additional cache, though that might have been deliberate on the author's part, weaving a kind of hypnotic spin in keeping with the boys often dizzying flight through the maze.

Very little has been heard of Fuller since his monumental success, but he proves there are second acts in American literature, and sometimes it's merely a matter of finding another format and genre to let loose that powerful creative energy and urgency.

Herb Boyd is the author of Baldwin’s Harlem.

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