As up-to-the-minute as a Kendrick Lamar track and as ruefully steeped in eternal truths as a Gogol tale, these stories of young working-class black men coming into their dubious inheritances mark the debut of an assured young talent in American storytelling.
We’ll start with Gio since his is the voice telling most of these interrelated stories of love, longing, and thwarted aspiration among men of color growing up in the hilly, blue-collar enclave of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He is the mixed-race son of a professional football player named Lonnie “The Lion” Campbell, whose career, along with his mind, declined in shockingly abrupt ways. Dub, one of Gio’s childhood friends, dreamed of playing pro football though, as Gio recounts, he wasn’t as good as their other friend, Rye, who as an adult answers to the dual calling of dealing drugs and fighting fires. Then there’s Rolls, whose hard, street-coarsened manner belies a spirit romantic and inquisitive enough to become absorbed in photography. Each of these four young men, as different in temperament as they are similar in sensitivity, is enmeshed in struggles to break free of the constrictions imposed on his dreams by society and by himself. Gio, who has come into considerable money in part because of a settlement with the NFL over his dad’s untimely deterioration and death, is shown squandering these funds on drugs and other diversions in New York City while flashing gifts as a free-style rap artist. At least he gets out of Pawtucket while his friends struggle with their respective demons—and with the wise and often too-forbearing women in their lives. The stories are by turns comedic, bawdy, heartbreaking, and grisly. What links them all is the heady style deployed throughout; language with the same taut rhythm and blunt imagery as the best hip-hop yet capable of intermittent surges of lyricism that F. Scott Fitzgerald in his own precocious stories of youthful romance and remorse could summon.
The publisher says Holmes is working on his first novel. This collection makes you thirst for whatever’s coming next.