Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Nine novels that explore secrecy and deception in racial identity

Zach Vasquez is a native of Los Angeles, California. He writes fiction and criticism.

At CrimeReads he tagged "nine crime, suspense and noir novels that revolve around the act of racial passing," including:
The Human Stain, Philip Roth

The third and final entry in the late, great Philip Roth’s American Trilogy, 2000’s The Human Stain contains one of the author’s most startling and controversial reveals (which, given his talent for meta-narrative trickery, is saying something). Initially, we’re led to believe that the story’s protagonist, the aging and newly widowed Coleman Silk, is a white Jewish man not too dissimilar to Roth’s narrator (and alter ego) Nathan Zuckerman. It’s only around the half-way mark that Roth—following in the footsteps of authors like Dorothy Hughes and Charles Willeford—reveals that Silk is actually a Black man who has spent his entire adulthood passing. What follows is a complex examination of identity by one of America’s greatest novelists working at the top of his game. The Human Stain is included here because in its back half it shifts gears and becomes something of a thriller (and, ultimately, a murder mystery), one that involves Silk’s attempts to protect his newfound love from the violent attention of her disturbed Vietnam vet ex.

While Roth never dived headlong into the genre, the thematically-linked trilogy of novels he produced at the turn of the century—American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and The Human Stain—all use crime as a lens through which he attempted to understand what he dubbed the “American Berserk”. In centering the final novel of that trilogy around passing, Roth connected his grand theme to the greatest of all-American transgressions.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Human Stain is among Jess Dukes's ten brain-expanding books for the college-bound teen and John Mullan's ten best fishing trips in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue