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We Cast a Shadow: 06/10/19
The audiobook of We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, performed by Dion Graham, was been part of my artist experience for the first half of this year. Every time I painted, I had it on in the background. As I listened to it in chunks over such a long period of time, my impressions of this speculative fiction, near future satire might seem disjointed.
The narrator, a black father who works as a lawyer at a mostly white law firm, wants to save up enough to "fix" his son's birthmark. Nigel, born light skinned has over the course of his childhood growing patches of darker skin that have been spreading as he ages. There is a plastic surgery treatment, demelanization, that lightens people's skin at a cellular level. Although if the area is injured, the new skin grows back at its original shade.
The narrator grew up in a WWII style ghetto — a walled in and patrolled neighborhood. People are thrown together into families even if they are strangers. His extended family has a number of these uncles and cousins who aren't actually save for being forced to live together.
Somehow he beat the odds, not getting arrested, getting a good education, getting a good job, moving to the suburbs, and so forth. But he has so internalized a hatred for his skin color and a fear that his son will be forced into the life he escaped, that he spends the entire book doing everything he can so he can "fix" his son, even though his wife and his son don't want the procedure.
Without going into the how and why, the last third of this novel takes a far flung tangent that puts this novel onto the road narrative spectrum at a 669999.
The protagonist is marginalized (66). He spends the entire novel wallowing in that fact and fearing over how his genes have forced the same status on his son. He's an unusual example of a marginalized traveler in that most of these types of characters are written by privileged (typically white, male, cis-het) authors.
His journey — his final destination — ends up being the wildlands (99). Before this tangent begins, a new law is put on the books to deport criminal blacks. Citizen born, multigenerational, most likely descendants of slaves. Although the protagonist seems to have escaped the worst of these laws, he ends up with the deportees. He's also by this time had the procedure he has so desperately wanted for his son.
The narrator's journey into the life he so feared for his son is a direct result of doing everything he can to avoid it. In this regard, the getting what he fears the most, makes the journey seem like a labyrinthine one (99). He's on a fixed, spiraling path that can't be avoid, save for stepping off the path.
Put all together, We Cast a Shadow is ultimately the tale of a marginalized man going through the labyrinth to the wildlands.