Tag Archives: Jess Row

Check Your (Literary) Privilege

photo by Chester Higgins Jr.  / The New York Times

photo by Chester Higgins Jr. / The New York Times

Jess Row is stealthily becoming our most subversive and progressive literary critic.

You probably know Jess Row for his fiction—The Train to Lo Wu and Your Face in Mine—or maybe for the beautiful little piece he wrote for Fiction Advocate not long ago. But over at The Boston Review, Row has been publishing a series of critical essays about privilege and point of view in literature. These essays are so calm, so deliberate, and so authoritative, that unless you read them all at once, you might miss how comprehensive and devastating Row’s critique really is.

In “The Novel Is Not Dead,” Row takes issue with other critics–mostly James Wood, David Shields, and Benjamin Kunkel–who assert that the best writing is engaged in depicting “reality” or “realism.” Observing that when they call for greater “reality” in fiction, they are often reinforcing their own idea of what reality is—white and privileged—Row accuses these critics of being “dogmatically bigoted.” He writes, “We need critics who set impatient standards, ask uncomfortable questions, and maintain an omnivorous appetite for the unfamiliar, the awkward, the angry, the untoward. Instead, we have a gated community, a velvet-roped garden party, a Brooklyn vs. Cambridge fantasy baseball league.”

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HITTING SHELVES #8: Your Face in Mine by Jess Row

Your Face in Mine

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row comes out today!

It’s the story of Kelly Thorndike, a Baltimore native who bumps into an old friend on the streets. His friend used to be Jewish, but now, thanks to a near-impossible medical procedure, he has been transformed into an African American. Enlisted in the cause, Kelly becomes the doubting Boswell to his friend’s Dr. Johnson, charged with writing the official story of the world’s first “racial reassignment surgery.” But Kelly is distracted by his own issues: his Chinese wife and their young daughter died recently, and he still grieves for them, and for the culture he left behind as an expat in China. Kelly is faced with some big questions. Is race a personal choice? Should it be? Is that even possible?

Your Face in Mine is a searing account of race in America today. It might be the best book I have read all year. It’s certainly the most thought-provoking. Run to the store, buy it, read it, and watch the future unfold in its image.

We asked the author one question. Continue reading

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