Call him Ishmael. It’s one of a few placeholders the protagonist of
Michael Thomas’s first novel, “Man Gone Down,” offers up as a clue to
his identity. It doesn’t matter if that’s really his name, though,
because like Melville’s enlightened non hero, this man does not expect
to survive the journey. He has long known himself lost
to this world.Thomas gives him his story to tell in the first person,
allowing his hero more than 400 pages to narrate the events of four
days and the troubled lifetime that’s led up to them. A
Boston-bred black man living in Brooklyn and struggling to write while
supporting his blue-blooded white wife and their three children,
Thomas’s narrator is on the verge of losing it all.
Completely broke and temporarily residing in the bedroom of a friend’s
child, he must come up with more than $12,000 in these four days —
enough money to rent an apartment, pay tuition at his children’s
private school and rescue his motley crew from their Brahmin
grandmother’s New England home, where they’ve been exiled for the
summer. “Man Gone Down” is the story of this and other near
Though the novel ostensibly recounts the events of four desperate days
in New York, it extends far beyond these boundaries of time and space.
In seamlessly integrated flashbacks, the narrator recalls the trauma of
his 1970s childhood as a “social experiment,” bused to the affluent
suburbs of Boston from the city.
He then uses these forays into the too-present past as springboards
from which to investigate the fragmented histories of his abusive
mother and perpetually absent father — so much “collateral damage of
the diaspora.” From there, flash forward to the tragedies of his more
recent history: debilitating alcoholism, outbursts of violence while at
Harvard, dreams deferred, if not extinguished altogether. One of the bigger questions posed by the novel is how to pursue the
American and other dreams when the realities of race stand so mightily
in the way. Indeed, just how does one negotiate a color line that runs
smack through the middle of a family?
The narrator’s semi-ironic refrain, borrowed from Lorraine Hansberry,
“Look what the new world hath wrought,” wears a bit thin, but his less
self-conscious reflections on the so-called race question — as it
affects his kids — are powerful and moving.
Going a step beyond
the normal parental fascination with their children’s genotype and
phenotype, he acknowledges his heightened attention to the provenance
of specific features: his younger son looks “exactly like” him “except
he’s white. He has bright blue-gray eyes that at times fade to green.
... In the summer he’s blond and bronze — colored.
He looks like a tan elf on steroids.” Barely named products of his
transgressive partnership (his sons are called “C” and “X,” his
daughter referred to only as “my girl”), the children are preposterous
hybrids — “the wreckage of miscegenation” — at war with a nation’s
His well-founded fears for them expose the lie of America’s melting-pot fantasy.“Man Gone Down” might have been shorter. The scope of Thomas’s project
is prodigious, though, and the end result is an impressive success.
He has an exceptional eye for detail, and the poetry of his descriptive
digressions — “the heaving surface of the water is what the night sky
should be — moving and wild, wavering reflections of buildings on both
sides, dark and bright, like thin, shimmering clouds” — provides some
respite from the knowledge that the city he loves can truly crush a
man’s spirit. A Boston-bred African-American
writer who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their three children,
Thomas seems to have fully embraced the “write what you know” ethos.
And what he knows is how the odds are stacked in America. He knows the
unlikelihood of successful black fatherhood. He knows that things are
set up to keep the Other poor and the poor in their place. More than anything else, he knows how little but also — fortunately — how much it can take to bring a man down.GET THIS BOOK FREE.BUY SELL RENT BOOKS FROM THE LINK BELOW.