Three Fifths

Mysterious Book Report No. 398

by John Dwaine McKenna

Dynamite comes in small packages, is an old saw that usually refers to persons of small stature.  But when taken literally, it means that explosive things are humble in size . . . and it’s a spot-on metaphor for this week’s MBR.

Three Fifths, (Agora Books, $24.99, 212 pages, ISBN 978-1-947993-67-9) by John Vercher, is a pulsating, daring, and brave debut that’s as noirish as they come . . . and as thought-provoking as Dr. King’s Letter From the Birmingham Jail.

The story begins in Pittsburgh.  In the winter of 1995.  That’s when twenty-two year-old Bobby Saraceno’s best friend Aaron gets out of prison.  They were inseparable growing up, a pair of comic book geeks who argued the pros and cons of Marvel versus D.C., and stood up for each other against bullies.  But that was then, and this is now.  Now there’s a huge problem because Bobby Saraceno is a biracial man—the product of a black father he’s never known and a white single mother—who’s been denying his ethnicity and passing as white his entire life . . .while Aaron’s emerged from the penitentiary as a raging, steroid-fueled, hulked-up, acne-spattered, inked-out and racially-charged member of a notorious white supremacist gang.  On his first night out of incarnation, Aaron involves Bobby and makes him complicit, when he smashes a black teenager in the face with a brick, grievously injuring him.  Fearing for his safety . . . and his  life . . . Bobby lives on a razor’s edge; trying to keep his identity secret and conceal the crime,  while wrestling with his conscience and wanting to confess.

It’s when Bobby’s father reenters his life after being absent for two plus decades however, that everything comes to a searing conclusion in this blunt-edged thriller that has all the pathos a reader can stand.

Based in part on the writer’s own life experiences, Three Fifths will leave readers thinking about it, talking about it, and recommending it to other fair-minded readers, long after the last page is turned.  It’s one for the ages!

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