Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

So much of what I’ve been reading lately has been reinforcing the events that keep coming up in the media (news, social networking, et al) that I was sort of desperate for a novel that would help me escape for a bit.  I’d skimmed through a few “recent publications” and “coming soon” newsletters and one title intrigued me, mostly because of the cover and that it’s a science fiction.  I figured, if anything would get me away from the world, a novel that’s set in a different world. 

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row is the novel I chose.   Kelly Thorndike returns to Baltimore after experiencing a personal tragedy and is reunited with a high school friend, Martin.  Only, Martin is no longer recognizable because he’s gone through a racial reassignment surgery and is no living his life as an African-American man. 

I guess I should have known that a book about a man who changes his race wouldn’t exactly help me elude the racial tension splashed out across the news.  Still, the premise intrigued me.  Why would a Jewish –American man choose to become African-American and why does Martin want to “come out of the closet” as it were?  These questions were reason enough to push me to read this book.

The characters themselves are well-written, with back stories that give a reasonable impetus for their actions.  As their stories are revealed, it is easy to see what motivates each man and the author never miss-steps in maintaining the psychological integrity of each.  The secondary characters, however, are mostly two-dimensional and easily forgettable.  The sub-plots are worse, detracting from the primary narrative and go nowhere.  They neither add layers to the characterization nor advance the plot in intriguing ways. 

Most interesting is the missed opportunity to fully explore the weighty issue of race and identity.  Most, if not everything, the characters say or think about race is unique from the typical white-liberal-guilt one might find bantered about on social media or at a dinner party.  Maybe I wanted, even needed, something more aggressive, more transgressive—Spike Lee cum Chuck Palahniuk.  Maybe I expected or hoped for more emotion, passion, feeling.  In the end, I read a novel that served as a distraction because it was intellectually intriguing while being (dare I say it?) ultimately forgettable.

Footnote:  The author has published a few short story collections and won several awards for his short fiction.  I am curious to read some of his shorter works because I he obviously has talent and it may be that he’s stronger in short form.   

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