Books: By the Light of My Father's Smile

Alice Walker

Ten pages into her new novel, Walker stages a highly illustrative scene of lesbian sex. Is it fiction or is it gynecology? A moot question when confronting an author whose continuing crossover success depends on reaching an expanding audience. Walker flits gnomically through space and time to tell the story of an American family and its transformation from a repressed patriarchal unit to a spiritual sorority of free radicals. Fans of the well-focused The Color Purple may not appreciate Walker's looser style or such unintended crack-up lines as "...in the branches of the nearest tree lives the first cousin of your...