Monthly Archives: June 2021

Parade – Michael Graves (Storgy Books)

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Storgy Books

How in the world did I miss this when it originally came out in 2015? I see in the archives I read his collection of short fiction, Dirty Ones, and I remember enjoying it immensely. No matter. Parade is as sharply observed and pointedly absurd as that book, but the long form of a novel allows Graves to really dig in and create some very layered and wholly believable characters he puts through the wringer in a number of ways.

Reggie Lauderdale and Elmer Mott are cousins, but their temperments are entirely unrelated. Reggie is a conflicted, rigid, gay, church-going hypochondriac, and Elmer is a straight, somewhat dissolute bum who falls in love with unattainable women he can’t quite get over. Together, they burn down the aforementioned church, win the lottery, move into a relative’s ritzy Florida (of course it’s Florida) mansion next door to a former televangelist, and start a religion that seems to be based on hedonism and aphorisms, not to mention glitzy parties.

Rather than rely on lengthy expositon, Graves wisely chooses to tell their story in short hits–vignettes of events or splashes of dialogue that illuminate or illustrate a point, then move on. This approach is totally in character as neither Reggie nor Elmer dwell anywhere but the moment. They may return to that moment again and again to the point of obsession, but they don’t think long about something before thinking about something else. While this sounds distracting, Graves fashions all these moments into a whole that works splendidly, alternating viewpoints in sort an ADD ballet.

Even the religion Reggie founds expresses itself in short bursts. Instead of any overtly religious title, like The Word or The Way, it’s called The Cookbook, and its verses are numbered recipes. Some of these are simple, others are more complicated, but all are good, nondemoninational advice, such as:

RECIPE #21
Stop lying. Lies are hideouts.
If you fouled up, caused a fender bender, come clean. If you gossiped
unkindly, tell those involved. If you piddled on the toilet seat, admit it.
When you have secrets stashed away? They will only press on your heart.
And don’t believe in little lies either. It’s silly. What’s the point?
Remember, if you are honest, you are FREE
.

Reggie lives by these homilies, and when he comes out, his metamorphosis is striking. He even stops wearing clothes, confining his fashion choices to briefs, high heels, and sometimes a cape. This is a figurative and literal coming out, but it’s more of a purpose than Reggie has had before. Elmer also finds a purpose, even though he comes to it in an effort to win yet another woman who doesn’t really respond him at first.

What I loved most about this book, however, was Reggie and Elmer’s journey and how it transforms them yet retains their personalities. They’re truly marvelous characters in Graves’s shock-pop world, highly stylized yet still very earthy. Parade is a wonderfully engaging book that has many surprises around the bend, leading up to a nicely satisfying ending. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Black Boy Out Of Time: A Memoir – Hari Ziyad (Little A)

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Amazon

As a frequent essayist in national media and the editor of RaceBaitr, Hari Ziyad is an important voice in the United States’ ongoing racial reckoning. With their début long-form work, Ziyad merges memoir, political commentary, and spiritual meditation.

A semi-linear narrative takes the reader from Ziyad’s childhood to adulthood, and it fades in and out of Ziyad’s recollection of going on a last walk with their grandmother Mother Bhumi who was a cornerstone of spiritual tradition and Black persistence in Ziyad’s family.

Ziyad was raised by a Hindu Hari Krisna mother and a Black, Muslim father, first in a lower income, racially segregated section of Cleveland, Ohio and later in the more racially mixed, middle class neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. Religiosity surrounded Ziyad while growing up. They describe a house filled with neighbors and strangers, welcomed by Mata, their mother, for weekly Krisna prayers and rituals. While Ziyad never became a devout practitioner, the faiths of their mother and their father strongly influenced Ziyad’s beliefs, both spiritually and politically.

Ziyad switches from autobiography to socio-political commentary frequently, and early on, introduces a new lexicon to describe anti-black racism. Their experience as Black and queer provides a unique vantage point for observing the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and toxic masculinity. Ziyad uses the term misafropedia to describe a powerful weapon of white supremacy: the aversion to and stereotyped treatment of Black children. The author’s observations about a boy from their childhood neighborhood bring the concept into crisp focus. Roberto was a big boy with a high energy level, who was labelled as a “troublemaker” by adults solely because of his appearance and rough-and-tumble temperament. Ziyah reflects on a memory of Roberto “suddenly” no longer being part of neighborhood games, and digging deeper, they illuminate the subtle ways such boys become alienated, excluded, and told who they should be. The connection to poor school outcomes, anti-social activity and incarceration rings painfully true.

In contrast, Ziyad was a likeable enough, high achieving student who benefitted from adult and peer encouragement and went on to college, graduate school and a notable academic career. They tell their story via inflection points that shaped their understanding of what it means to be Black and queer in America. On the death of Mother Bhumi, listed as of natural causes: “When Black folks die, it is never so simple. When Black folks die, it can always be traced to the myriad ways the state has perfected killing us over the last five centuries of colonization.” On drifting away from Mata due to her religious condemnation of Ziyad’s first gay relationship: “My inability to find faith a world where both Michael and my mother could coexist helped spur a perfect storm of avoidance and substance abuse and self-destructive tendencies…that have plagued me ever since.”

This is a book that makes the reader pause, self-reflect, and at times work through one’s own defenses around race and racism. Ziyad facilitates that process by laying bare their own missteps in navigating racism, sexism, and homophobia as well as by acknowledging the essential truth we don’t have all the answers. It’s an important book elucidating the complex manifestations of anti-black racism and its impacts on queer people specifically.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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