The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
A story so compelling that it pulled its author away from another project, THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE is frustrating, sad, perturbing and disturbing. A bright young man squanders his gifts, dies needlessly, and leaves a legacy of unanswered questions.
The remarkable mind of little Rob --- raised in poverty, his mother a hospital worker and his father a smart-aleck drug dealer --- was evident by the time he was three, when his daycare minders dubbed him “Little Professor.” When his father was imprisoned for a senseless murder, Rob remained a loyal son, though he rarely spoke of the circumstances that marred his childhood. Jackie soldiered on, determined to make the best possible life for her son. Admitted to a prestigious parochial school against the odds, Rob’s luck didn’t stop there: a multimillionaire, Charles Cawley, spontaneously decided to pay for Rob’s entire college education. At Yale, Rob excelled not just in academics but as a party animal who supplied drugs to his friends. Jeff Hobbs was his roommate.
"THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE crackles with cinematic surrealism, projecting a sense of the eerie anonymity of the man Robert Peace seemed to be and could have been, but maybe never was."
The trajectory for the African American boy who studied molecular biochemistry after rising from the slums, genial and incredibly gifted intellectually, should have been straight to the top. But somehow that never happened. Rob’s unraveling from high-achieving academic to lowlife entrepreneur makes for a fascinating study that never lags. After fits and starts at respectability, he perversely utilized his knowledge of chemistry to perfect a new variety of marijuana in the secrecy of his basement, organizing a chain of “distributors” drawn off the streets on which he had grown up. The counterpoint to his downward spiral was his mother’s unwavering strength; Jackie always encouraged and never disparaged.
Since Rob was so often “fronting,” as he called it, showing only the face that people needed to see in any given situation, no one knew the total Robert Peace. Perhaps not even Rob himself, who was fatally gunned down at age 30, having strayed so far from his earlier promise that the two “fronts” are nearly irreconcilable.
In trying to puzzle out the “short and tragic” path Rob followed, Hobbs has produced a dramatic saga that will make the reader want to shout “Stop! Come back!” at various points along the way, as college kid Rob gradually eases into a bizarre double life as a criminal. Was he trying to make his father proud, or morph into him? To protect and support his mother, or rebuke her for her faith in him? Was he a devious sociopath, or merely a reversion, a “product” of the culture in which he was raised?
THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE crackles with cinematic surrealism, projecting a sense of the eerie anonymity of the man Robert Peace seemed to be and could have been, but maybe never was.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on September 24, 2014