Books: Lion Man Among the Ruins

PHILADELPHIA FIRE by John Edgar Wideman

Henry Holt; 199 pages; $18.95

Limelight suited John Edgar Wideman, a former University of Pennsylvania basketball star and Rhodes scholar who became a novelist once heralded as the "black Faulkner." But in 1976 the light began to darken. Wideman's younger brother Robert was convicted as an accomplice to a murder and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. Ten years later, the writer's 16- year-old son Jacob stabbed a camping companion to death and, like his uncle, was given a life term.

How the golden writer and the convict brother could come from the same Pittsburgh family...