KNUCK­LE­HEAD

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Writers Of Color - —DANNY GARD­NER —KATIE ASHER

Adam Smyer, Akashic Books (FE­BRU­ARY) Soft­cover $15.95 (340pp), 978-1-61775-587-3

There is a wide-eyed sweet­ness that lurks un­der­neath the hos­til­ity of this novel, told in jour­nal style. As with an ac­tual knuck­le­head, with time and pa­tience, the re­wards well ex­ceed the ef­fort.

Young, black law stu­dent Mar­cus Hayes nar­rates his own fast-mov­ing story. His first-per­son ac­count of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in 1980s New York is a pearl neck­lace of chance en­coun­ters, mo­men­tous oc­ca­sions, and pow­er­ful con­flicts, all of which shape him, but only af­ter he’s dis­abused of his no­tions of him­self.

Af­ter a vi­o­lently tense be­gin­ning, Mar­cus hits his stride. Soon he crafts a cocky ploy to form his own study group of racial out­siders. All are bril­liant, quirky, and go­ing places—or at least they will be, un­der Mar­cus’s savvy di­rec­tion. This leads to a bold en­counter with group mem­ber Amalia, a preppy class­mate from Berke­ley whose love—and own black mid­dle-class mores—pro­vides im­pe­tus to calm the rage within.

One mo­ment, he has a vi­o­lent date-night en­counter in Al­pha­bet City. Months later, he’s an­tiquing in Cal­i­for­nia. Meet­ing Amalia’s par­ents goes well un­til truths are told and con­trasts are drawn. All the while, the knuck­le­head within lurks. The ten­sion is de­li­cious, and the heartache pal­pa­ble. Smyer gets how swiftly change can oc­cur on the heels of con­fronta­tions borne of con­di­tion­ing that we feel pow­er­less to avoid.

This book is bold in how it treats the reader as an in­sider to the re­al­ity of Amer­i­can black­ness. It can be, in turns, lyri­cally poignant, cyn­i­cal, hi­lar­i­ous, and in­fu­ri­at­ing. Some read­ers may have to push through the dim spots to ad­vance forward. Know there is light around ev­ery cor­ner, you just have to hus­tle past some poorly-lit ar­eas to get there. Just like New York City in the eight­ies, when it was won­der­ful. Hanif Kureishi’s is a darkly hu­mor­ous and slightly porno­graphic story about three ex­tremely self-cen­tered in­di­vid­u­als en­trenched in an odd, tri­an­gu­lar af­fair.

A re­tired and ter­mi­nally ill film­maker, Waldo, has sus­pi­cions of an af­fair be­tween his wife, the vain and im­pul­sive Zee, and his “friend” (in the loos­est of terms), the ma­nip­u­la­tive and dam­aged Ed­die.

Zee, de­spite be­ing ex­tremely su­per­fi­cial and self-ab­sorbed, has been tak­ing care of her ail­ing hus­band for ten years when she falls in love with Ed­die. She does very lit­tle to hide her re­la­tion­ship, pur­posely parad­ing her paramour around Waldo as if to pun­ish him.

Ed­die has a tu­mul­tuous past that ex­plains his pa­thetic and toxic be­hav­ior. It is ob­vi­ous Ed­die has no shame in bla­tantly tak­ing Waldo’s wife, home, clothes, and money right from un­der Waldo’s nose.

Waldo de­cides to cre­ate his fi­nal pièce de ré­sis­tance: video and au­dio proof of his wife’s in­fi­delity. Waldo even ad­mits, “I don’t want her to be happy. I just want her to be with me. Is that too much to ask?”

Kureishi takes these three self-cen­tered char­ac­ters and fleshes out their mul­ti­lay­ered per­son­al­i­ties with strange quirks, trau­ma­tiz­ing past ex­pe­ri­ences, and emo­tional be­hav­ior. Each char­ac­ter’s tem­per­a­ment is slightly dis­taste­ful, but their pe­cu­liar­i­ties lead to en­joy­able ban­ter and a hu­mor­ous read. Kureishi’s char­ac­ters are an in­trigu­ing mix: lov­able and funny, dis­turbingly im­petu­ous, and some­times down­right re­pug­nant in their be­hav­ior.

Brief and highly en­joy­able, The Noth­ing shines with its in­tri­cate char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and in­ter­est­ing web of re­la­tion­ships. Kureishi forges an in­tense de­sire to dis­cover ex­actly how each char­ac­ter’s life, or ul­ti­mately their deaths, will play out, and how each plays a part in the oth­ers’ fates.

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