Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas

It seems that I am not destined to be one of the people who loved this book. The New York Times Book Review called it “powerful and moving…an impressive success”, and named it one of the ten best books of 2007, but I just cannot agree. I was so little moved by the unnamed narrator’s trials and tribulations that I was not able to invest in the stream of conscious narrative, and just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. In the first twenty pages the narrator references at least three traumatic experiences which have made his life difficult, with the additional burden of being a black man married to a white woman and trying to raise their three children: X, C, and a little girl that remains unnamed. It’s almost as if the book is too intellectual because there is a strange absence of feeling in the part that I read.

And it’s not like it isn’t coherent and well-written. Thomas’s prose is poetic.

“There are ghosts on the street tonight. There’s a giant moon in the eastern sky, low and orange. It throws light on the asphalt, light and shadows of tree leaves and telephone wires. My father ran put on us when he was the age that I am now, but he didn’t have the heart to just go. First he went to the couch, then to the Ramada, and only after a decade of coming in and out of my life did he finally allow himself to completely disappear.”

It’s just that things happen and I’m not sure exactly what they are, and nor do I care to go back and find out what they are.This was my pick for my book club based on a back cover that sounded very interesting and some great reviews. None of us liked it much nor were we able to get through the book other than by skimming. There just didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to read the story, and in the 428 pages covering four days, nothing seems to happen. The character alludes to childhood traumas that he is struggling with, even at the age of thirty-five, and maybe his perspective was too far removed and detached for us to be able to feel him. Not sure.

From the back cover:

On the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday, the unnamed black narrator of Man Gone Down finds himself broke, estranged from his whit wife and three children and living in the bedroom of a friend’s six-year-old child.. He has four days to come up with the money to keep the kids in schools and make a down payment on an apartment for them to live in. As we slip between his childhood in inner city Boston and present day new York City, we learn of a life marked by abuse, abandonment, raging alcoholism, and the best and worst intentions of a supposedly integrated American Dream gone awry, about what it’s like to feel pre-programmed to fail in life and the urge to escape that sentence.

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