The novel is painful to read; not only because it reflects the truth of oppression and racial division in this era (and the concern that many of us feel about Trump’s election and whether that shows a regression towards a more divisive society today too), but also because it expertly dangles hope in front of the reader.
‘Fear of flying’ has shown me that we - real women - are not the ones that are broken. It shines a light on how impossible it can feel to be a woman, and on how biased and constructed our points of reference against which to measure ourselves have been since we were children. As D. H. Lawrence says: “The real trouble about women is that they must always go on trying to adapt themselves to men’s theories of women.”
It isn’t the plot that makes this novel special. It lacks much action at all, in fact - but this is a deliberate attempt to direct us alongside Jernigan as he makes a series of bad or passive decisions to draw out the repetitive, unfulfilling life that he admits he would much rather not be living. Instead of focusing on drama, Gates spends the majority of the book focusing on the intricacies of his character, showing redemptive compassion for his introspective, self-pitying protagonist, as he tries to rationalize his own terrible behavior.
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“Yo. Hear the bell?” I say over my shoulder to Thorndike, who's lying spread-eagled on his bed, face down. The only parts of him moving are the bright yellow soles of his trainers, bobbing up and down erratically like headlights. He’d cleaned them last night before bed, as he always did. Scrubbing and picking and brushing any specks he’d picked up from the linoleum. Like he was determined not to carry any of his day into the next.
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“The DNA sample that you have provided does not match any of our records. Please return another sample to us.” He paused and read it again. Without saying anything, he flipped it over and skimmed the other side. It listed the countries: 0%, 0%, 0%. Another small line at the bottom: “Your DNA sample has not returned any matches.”
Through the knees of his suit trousers, woollen and scratchy, the child could feel the wet soil seeping. He had found a snail to watch.
He kissed me with the kind of urgency you only really see in the movies. It was only now that I started to detect the slightest flavour of something charred and earthy in his tongue. He was definitely a smoker.