Rating: 2 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

“My God! Have you thought about writing the story? That would be awesome to incorporate all the tragedies of 2020 into a novel. You could call it An American Year of Infamy,” said Nigel.

And that’s exactly what happens. This book begins with the near arrest of a black man, adds in ICE deporting the Mexican friend of another character, a pair of gay men finding it hard and scary to raise a black son, a man beginning to transition from the female body to one more true to himself, and a man flying home to visit his mother, ill with COVID, while facing homophobia and a murder attempt because, when he was younger, he stood up for a black man. Add in COVID, Black Lives Matter, suicide, proud boys, the violent death of a child, several scenes decrying how awful American politics are, a shooting, a few love affairs, and there you have this book.

The characters in this book … don’t feel like characters. Not really. They feel like stand-ins for where a character could have been and mouthpieces to showcase problems with society. There are four stories involving a married couple (Augie and Ruben) raising their son who was born via surrogate, who wants to get to know his mother, hoping that she — being black — will understand what it’s like for him, being black. But the focus isn’t on the son; it’s on the brief threesome Augie and Ruben enter into while on vacation where they decry how awful the world is. It’s like reading a play, with everything laid out simply, bluntly, and with no nuance. Just monologue after monologue about the evils of the world without having anything really to say beyond isn’t this bad/sad/wrong?

When Augie and Ruben are talking about their son and his being black in today’s world, Ruben starts to talk about racism. His husband, Augie, makes a comment that Ruben ignores so he can continue his lecture on how anyone, no matter how well-meaning, can be racist, because sometimes it’s so deep inside them they don’t even know it’s there. But it doesn’t feel like he is talking to his husband. Instead, it feels like the author, through Ruben, is talking to the reader. The characters in this book seem to exist to be allegories, which … fine. Allegories and myths can help reframe our ideas while giving them a familiar structure within a more easily felt and understood story for easy consumption, but in this particular story it isn’t a perfect fit. Instead of feeling like a story about people, it feels like lectures and commentary and a flat style of writing that left me drained and bored.

This is only enhanced by the fact that no one seems to talk like a person. They are all so very self aware; every conversation feels more like exposition or a lecture, or some pointed “remember this thing that happened?” I don’t get the feeling that this is a lived experience as much as a retrospective to remind us how sad and horrible it was to live through some of these events — COVID, the proud boys, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, the BLM marches, the attacks on the LGTBQ+ community… However, it doesn’t really feel about those moments, nor really about commenting on them. Reading this felt, to me, like reading a fictionalized BuzzFeed listicle. Remember this? Remember that? None of these events or characters feel real or alive, as if the only important part is that the story be told. The characters who lived through these events feel only there as set dressing.

Reading is such a personal thing, and there will be people — many of them — who enjoy this book for the very reasons I don’t. Who will see shades of their own experiences and add that humanity and depth to the characters through the very act of reading. But for me, this book doesn’t stand on its own feet. I found the subtle and not so subtle misogyny and the chiding, lecturing tone in some of the expositional scenes to be off-putting. I’m sorry, but this writer and this book are both a pass for me.

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