THREE-FIFTHS by John Vercher


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A savage hate crime impels a young man toward a deeper reckoning with his biracial identity.

Vercher’s debut novel is a blunt-edged thriller in which several disquieting revelations are set in motion on a snowy night in Pittsburgh circa 1995 when Bobby Saraceno, a 22-year-old restaurant worker, is pleasantly surprised to reunite with Aaron, his best friend from school days, who has just been paroled after a three-year prison stretch. Bobby notices his one-time fellow comic-book nerd has come out of stir bearing a “Hulked-out” physique along with a deep facial scar. Soon Bobby notices something else Aaron’s carrying: tattoos with lightning bolts and an Iron Eagle. They encounter a young black man at a fast-food diner who recognizes those tattoos as white supremacist insignia. He harangues them both toward the parking lot, where Aaron sets upon the black youth and repeatedly pounds his head with a brick. “Some animals need to be put down,” Aaron says to a stunned Bobby as they drive away from his victim before police arrive. Bobby decides out of loyalty that he’s going to protect himself and his friend from arrest even though Bobby’s carrying a secret that neither Aaron nor anyone else in his life knows: That he is the son of a black man he’s never met who had an affair with his white mother, a hot mess named Isabel who has trouble staying on the wagon. Not only has Bobby been “passing” for white, but even after finding out about his racial origins at age 11, he’s also been carrying some of the same bigoted opinions toward minorities as his maternal grandfather. Matters are complicated when Isabel decides in the midst of this turmoil to introduce Bobby to his father, who it turns out isn’t dead (as Bobby had believed) but alive and well and working as an emergency room doctor at a local hospital.

A sad, swift tale bearing rueful observations about color and class as urgent now as 24 years ago.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-947993-67-9
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Polis Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2019