Man Gone Down

Lucy Daniel in The Telegraph:

Man-gone-down1_mai_1448904f ‘I know things aren’t going well,’’ begins the narrator of Michael Thomas’s debut novel, bracing himself for a downward journey. Broke and bile-infused, Harvard-educated, now jobless and down on his luck in New York, he is estranged from his wife and three children. It is the eve of his 35th birthday, and he has four days to somehow scrape together $12,000 to keep his family afloat. Calling himself the ‘‘progeny of, to name only a few, an Irish boat caulker, a Cherokee drifter, and a quadroon slave’’ and married to a white woman from an elite Boston family, he provocatively refers to those children as ‘‘the wreckage of miscegenation’’. He spends the novel’s four days in anxious, caffeine-fuelled flight from his past – alcoholism and an abusive childhood. The question is whether he will redeem himself or resign himself to being ‘‘preselected for failure’’. Man Gone Down, as the title suggests, plays with the meanings of descent, and harks back to a rich tradition of American stories of rise and fall, success and failure, of ‘‘making it’’.

Thomas’s gleaming, lucid prose does justice to that tradition. The narrator wonders about the future for his children; one son is brown-skinned, the other fair, and he feels able to predict the arcs of their lives based on people’s reactions to their colours: X looks exactly like me except he’s white. He has bright blue-gray eyes that at times fade to green. They’re the only part of him that at times looks young, wild, and unfocused, looking at you but spinning everywhere. In the summer he’s blond and bronze-colored. He looks like a tan elf on steroids… His blue eyes somehow signify a grace and virtue and respect that needn’t be earned – privilege – something that his brother will never possess, even if he puts down the paintbrush, the soccer ball, and smiles at people in the same impish way… What will it take to make them not brothers?

More here.