Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Masterpiece delves into soul of America

Published:Sunday | February 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Glenville Ashby

Book: Knucklehead

Author: Adam Smyer

Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby

Adam Smyer delivers an imaginative expose on black psychology, a subject that proves as relevant today as it was centuries ago. This foray into racial archetypes is authentically urgent, an exigency that commands utmost attention.

Smyer's activism is channelled through his protagonist's personal and professional life, a life that could well derail under its own weight. The product is a uniquely constructed diary that proves exhaustively compelling.

Marcus Hayes is the protagonist who strives on an untamed libido. At an unrelenting pace, he exhumes his demons, laying bare a soul tortured by history his own, and that of his people. Black rage is a phenomenon long discussed. It is imprinted unto the psyche of a wounded people; their past becoming a foreboding shadow, a real albatross that claims its victim if only in psychological sense. Education and middle class stature could tame the inner rage, but there is no guarantee. Marcus is wry and sarcastic, delivering quips and rational arguments with shock value, gusto, and edge.

But he is moody and temperamental. He can fly off the handle at the drop of a dime. Still, he remains a sympathetic character. We see through his bravado, intemperance, and chivalry. They are nothing more that defence mechanisms for a psychological sore that festers. In essence, like his people, he is infested with a racial complex.

Marcus' girlfriend seems to tame his propensity to self-destruct. This sobering presence is salvific in the beginning. Burnished with degrees in law, they both carve out an enviable lifestyle where money is never that elusive.

There is a period of calm, but is it the calm before the storm?

There is a sense of imminent calamity. After all, Marcus is overly sensitive to identity, pride, and race.

The police assault on Rodney King and the execution of teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean shop owner only deepen his gangrenous wounds.




And as Los Angeles (LA) burns and Lady Justice turns a blind eye to blatant-human rights violations, we safely wager that he, too, will erupt.

Of law enforcement, Marcus is guardedly suspicious. In a routine, trivial encounter with an officer named Creely, Marcus ruminates, "I knew [he] could kill me and probably get away with it, he sure as well knew ... I didn't want him to beat my a** or kill me, but I knew that if he did, he wouldn't get away with it. I know too many people. That was the most I could ever hope to expect from the law: not protection, but revenge."

Marcus basks in his intelligence and success, but never disconnects himself from reality. He is a black man - a disconcerting realisation in America. His mother tries to assuage his concerns in one of the book's most remarkably didactic scenes. She tells him that he has nothing in common with blacks who break the law. "I know when a drug addict hits a lady over the head and his face is all over the paper and he looks like you, how you feel a little responsible sometimes. We've talked about that. And I hope you know that you've got nothing to do with that hoodlum. You didn't raise him. I certainly didn't raise him ... He's not part of you. It's got nothing to do with you."

Smyer barrels through events in the 1990s that shaped a nation's conscience, none more so than the LA riots. There is an urgency in his message. Decades after the riots, seething racial animus has never really left these shores.

In this, his debut narrative, Smyer dramatically encapsulates the ancestral trauma, and the collective guilt and suffering of ten of millions of people. Indeed, he has scored big. Real big.

Copyright: Adam Smyer 2018

Knucklehead by Adam Smyer

Publisher: Akashic Books, Brooklyn, New York

ISBN#: 978-1-61775-587-3

Available on Amazon

Rating: A must-buy