A debut novel tells the story of a rising Atlanta businessman visited by disturbing dreams of the slavery era.
Jason Scott and his wife, Callie, get into a fight on the way home from a party with some of his co-workers. Callie feels that Jason’s ambition allows him to tolerate overt racism from his bosses while he thinks she is naïve about what it takes to get ahead in America. That night, while sleeping on a futon on the deck of their spacious Atlanta home, Jason has an incredible dream: He is flying without a plane (or even a body) across a sky. Descending through a hole in the clouds, he flies up behind a group of lightly dressed blacks walking along a forest path: “Jason realized he was headed directly for the man in front. Without a hint of deceleration, he was about to crash into the back of the man’s head.” Over the course of the next week, the waking Jason reflects on his long relationship with Callie while being forced to mete out increasingly demeaning admonishments to his black co-workers on behalf of his white managers. At night, however, Jason watches from inside the head of his ancient black host—without the ability to comment or control the man’s actions—as the figure is captured, placed in chains, and marched to a dungeon. What will these lessons of the slave trade teach Jason about his station in contemporary America? Shelton writes in a descriptive prose that captures his characters’ emotional states in vivid detail: “Their pupils were dilated, indistinguishable from the pitch-blackness of the rest of the room. If eyes are windows to the soul, he saw sets of eyes—scores of them, all reflecting souls traumatically impaired.” While the premise of the book might sound heavy-handed, the author shapes it with a surprising amount of grace and nuance. Jason is no Ebenezer Scrooge, and the everyday racism of contemporary America is shown to be both pernicious and exhausting. While perhaps too didactic for some readers, the novel strives—and largely succeeds—to present the issue in its complexity.
An engrossing Christmas Carol–esque parable of modern racism.