Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: 'Sin Against the Race' by Gar McVey-Russell

California author Gar McVey-Russell studied at UCLA where he co-created a left-leaning paper called Free Association. He also wrote commentaries for The Daily Bruin and feature articles for the LGBTQ newsmagazine Ten Percent, for which he received an award. SIN AGAINST THE RACE is his debut publication though he has had articles published in Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS (1993), and other publications.

Gar’s skill as a writer of prose is very close to that of an accomplished poet. His language is beautiful and his ability to create the atmosphere of his story place as well as unveil the minds of his characters, allowing the reader entry into their psyches, is that of a polished professional.

He greets us on an early Monday Morning with the following entry – ‘ Sirens broke Alfonso’s sleep, but when he awoke they’d gone. His mind switched on, he again found himself in the desert of another sleepless night. Disasters stirred in the dimly lit alleys of his mind. Sweat sopped his forehead. Closed eyes longed for sleep. Weariness eventually drifted him into what his cousin Carlton described as a halfway to dawn state, neither dark nor light, neither asleep or awake, He wanted to linger in that state for as long as possible and cocoon himself in ambiguities.’

A moody beginning and a passage that, once the book is finished, is an even more meaningful experience. The language becomes raw when the story requires verbal bulwarks but the flow of the writing continues gently passionate in this very fine coming of age experience of ‘a young gay black man as he progresses from an invisible councilman’s son to a formidable presence in his community.’

Gar’s synopsis shares the plot well – ‘Alfonso Rutherford Berry III—son of a city councilman, grandson of the state’s first African American legislator—believes that history has ordained for him but one life, and it ain’t his first love: dancing. But after a series of tragedies, starting with the death of his fierce, out cousin Carlton, his assumptions explode in his face along with his closet door. Alfonso emerges into the life on a blanket of the jazz and blues he shared with Carlton. He hangs on Carver Street, the queer Northside of his largely black neighborhood. There, he is befriended by Carlton’s familiars: Sammy, a local storekeeper and neighborhood den mother, Bingo, a leather queen and nurse practitioner, Vera, a transgender activist and photographer, and Charlotte, his father’s political rival. At college, he becomes tight with two freshmen: Roy, an aspiring actor and acquaintance from high school and Bill, a new member of his church. He also finds love (and peril) in the form of Jameel, a long-time crush. His new life sets him on a collision course with his father, his church, and the family legacy established by his revered late grandfather.’

Enough said – the pleasure of this excellent novel is in the reading, an experience that leaves the reader assured that Gar Mc-Vey Russell is an important new voice in literature. Highly recommended! Grady Harp, January 18
I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.