A lustful affair turns ruinous in this uneven debut.
San Francisco in the late 1960s is a strange but welcome refuge for Edward “Teddy” Morgan, a young African-American from Chicago’s South Side. Long raised by his family to “play the game”—referring to their ability to seamlessly assimilate into white society—Teddy is drawn to the mystique of the West Coast and its more progressive notions. Told from Teddy’s perspective, the early chapters are sharp, thoughtful, and poignant takes on racial boundaries and ideologies as Teddy reflects upon his years in Chicago leading up to his exodus. Unfortunately, the promising start soon sputters. Jumping back and forth through the years, the timeline of Teddy’s life becomes convoluted to the point that it’s not even certain he knows when things took place. Furthermore, his own sanity comes into question as he slips deeper into paranoia, the result of his incendiary affair with Odette, a former beauty pageant queen who is white, and therefore, as Teddy explains, off-limits. Despite a plethora of prior sexual encounters, Odette quickly becomes the pinnacle of Teddy’s desire. If every man wants her, then what would that mean if Teddy could be with her? What would everyone say? Could they last with their obvious social differences? These are the questions Teddy obsesses over in the latter half of the story, which becomes weighted by his constant, oft recycled ramblings. Many of the passages—and one entire chapter—are repeated almost verbatim from earlier sections in the novel. Ultimately, Teddy reasons that Odette is the catalyst for everything bad that has happened to him, though much of what happens takes place offstage and is never fully explained. Using almost no dialogue, this clunky confessional gets obscured by Teddy’s paranoid perspective. What begins as a promising sociological and philosophical look at race in America quickly devolves into licentious quests that lead to nowhere particularly interesting.
Lustful but not sensual; promising but incomplete.