A poignant short story collection that examines African-American males in the modern era.
Dobson (The Race Is Not Given, 1999) presents six stories that attempt to give voice to seldom-heard experiences of black men. In the titular and longest story, an academic named Eddie returns to his old stomping grounds in Buffalo, New York, to hear his friend Johnny Smith’s account of his experiences during the reign of terror of the 22-Caliber Killer, Joseph Christopher. The real-life Christopher killed at least 13 people, most of them black men, in 1980 and 1981. Johnny’s tale is interspersed with facts about the slayings themselves, the slow progress made by the police, and the mounting frustrations of the black community. The relationship between Johnny and Bill Reilly, Johnny’s wife’s former professor and a white man, become a microcosm of the violence and racial tension that’s consuming Buffalo. Near the end of the story, Dobson points out how a prolific serial killer who wanted to “start a race war between blacks and whites” received little attention outside of New York state. In “Black Messiahs Die,” a young black athlete, Jonathan Jameer Gadsden, is killed by a cop who claims he thought that Gadsden was reaching for a weapon instead of a basketball. While Gadsden’s agents wonder how the cop could have failed to recognize a famous athlete “worth 100 million,” their 24-year-old secretary Eden mentally connects the slaying to other incidents of police killing young black men. The collection occasionally suffers from stilted language, as when Eden, overtaken by grief at Jonathan’s death, tells her son, “Mommy’s sorry to have awakened you.” Overall, however, the stories are compelling and particularly poignant in light of the increased awareness of racist murderers and police violence. The story of Jonathan Gadsden’s death, for example, seems to fit in seamlessly with the real-life cases of Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and John Crawford. In one of the strongest moments in “Rendered Invisible,” the characters discuss why Johnny’s story needs to be told, and eloquently decide that it’s to overcome the media images of “crazy” black men like “O.J. and Malvo” because “most of us are not crazed maniacs or monsters. We’re just invisible.” By telling these stories, Dobson attempts to fulfill the same mission set out by his characters.
Tales about feelings of erasure and invisibility that will resonate with many readers.