In this debut novella, Lassiter tells a tale of a family seeking to change the world with a great speech.
A playful narrator, known as Mwalimu, has a story for the reader that only takes 20 minutes to tell. Lee and Net are gifted youngsters growing up in a society structured around a rigid class system. One night, as Lee, “the smartest kid on the block,” is sitting in his favorite tree, he overhears his 11-year-old neighbor, Net, practicing a speech that she’s been writing about the injustice of the status quo. “ ‘I,’ Net said proudly beginning her speech without warning, ‘supreme court ruler of all the rules in all the land will make all the people happy all the time and never cry, be treated mean, or….’ ” Lee immediately wants to be friends with this girl, and after a number of years, their friendship blossoms into love. They eventually have two children together: a daughter, Meka, and a son, Hebid. Lee and Net attempt to raise them to be politically progressive and well-rounded, but the wider society threatens to corrupt and destroy the family. Lee tells Net that it’s time for the world to hear the speech she’s been writing her entire life, but in order to deliver it, she will need help from Meka and Hebid (and Mwalimu, as well). The novella is loaded with unusual, metafictional flourishes, with Mwalimu regularly admonishing the reader to listen to the story and counting down minutes. The text—presented, inadvisably, in the Comic Sans typeface—occasionally changes color, and the narrator throws in words from other languages and alphabets. The prose, however, is confusing to read, due in part to awkward syntax: “The two grew up in a familiar place as you. With similar lives. Lee’s family had not, before him, been able to cross the levels of communication.” The author never clearly establishes the setting or the rules of the world, and much of what the characters discuss remains unclear. Mwalimu’s narrative tone implies that some great joke is taking place, but it never reveals to the reader what it is.
A garbled and bewildering metafictional tale.