Monday, August 29, 2005
This weekend I had the pleasure of reading the debut novel of Frederick Smith titled "Down For Whatever." I have had it since it became available and actually received it in late June from the bookseller. But that's not my point today. I can tell you unequivocably that if you have not read Down for Whatever then what are you waiting for? A personal invitation from Frederick Smith? (Well you can get that from him at the Outwrite Bookstore in ATL during Labor Day Weekend Pride).
Momentarily, let's set aside the gay theme that will inevitably form the plot of a novel in gay literature. That's a given, and we'll come back to that. In order to have a book that stands out from the rest, you got to have a hook. E. Lynn Harris did it by showing a non-effeminate gay character (my perception of Winston) evolving and discovering his true nature while in the very traditional worlds of Law School (Invisible Life) and corporatedom (Just As I Am). Now, there's the hook. His characters were not seedy characters sliding around in back alleys engaging in meaningless sexual encounters. They were college educated, professional, and engaging. That was a new hook.
Rashid Darden gave Adrian a hook in Lazarus by setting his character on a predominately white college campus, making him a campus activist, and having him pledge a well known symbol of black manhood - the sacrosanct black fraternity (clutch the pearls, what next? The pulpit? lol).
Now Frederick Smith sets his seminal work along a theme that sociologists and demographers are already pointing out to the discomfort of majority White America, that is the new emerging minority/majority is brown/black. So what happens when black and brown characters begin to explore their commonalities. Just what you will find in Down For Whatever. That racial stereotypes can be vastly different from the reality that comes from association and interaction. Frederick takes two Black single gay males and two Latino sgm, mix them together along with their friends, companions, families and significant others and produces a storyline that everyone ought to read as a blueprint for the present and future of black/brown relationships. Inevitably, his characters grow into a deeper understanding of each other just as Americans of all races and ethnicities must continue to understand each other and grow into respecting culture and sexuality.
Then finally, add back into the mix the ups and downs of living the gay life as a professional, as an individual who is one step away from homelessness, or as one who is on the "down low" whatever that may mean (sorry Keith). Frederick Smith helps each of his readers to see a little of themselves in each character as they progress toward finding a more fulfilling self-identity. Down For Whatever may at times seem like a Reality Show in print, but then again, the everyday, mundane lives of many of us are in fact Reality Shows, aren't they? Buy it, read it. Shem hotep!
BTW, I took this novel with me to the gym on 2 nights and both times exceeded my usual running and biking distance because the novel is so compelling. Thanks Frederick for making my body healthier with DFW ;-)