“I’m not sure Black people can be happy in this world. There’s just too much of a backstory of sadness that’s always clawing at their heels. And no matter how hard you try to outrun it, life always comes through with those reminders letting you know that, more than anything, you’re just a part of an exploited people and a denied destiny and all you can do is hate your past and, by proxy, hate yourself”– Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”
The main story line of Hell of a Book by Jason Mott opens with a naked man running down the hall after having an affair with a married woman in a hotel room. This naked man is an unnamed, famous author who is on tour after publishing his first book, “Hell of a Book”. Our narrator has “a condition” where reality is a bit fluid for him. He often forgets huge swaths of detail about his own life, can unknowingly invent memories for himself, and sometimes sees and hears people who aren’t there.
While on tour, our author imagines, or at least he’s pretty sure he imagines, a young black boy. This boy might be the victim of a police shooting. Sometimes he sees the boy with bullet holes. But not always. The boy doesn’t talk about bullets though. He just wants to be seen and heard. He only seems to want the author to pay attention to him.
Woven throughout the book are the experiences of an incredibly dark skinned boy, whose bullies call him “Soot”. “Soot” believes he can make himself invisible. His parents have taught him that to be unseen is to be safe. But is that enough? And what about his family members who don’t have the same “ability” to go unseen?
Who is the invisible boy? Who is “Soot”? Who is our author? Who was killed? What can we even believe?
This was a fairly quick read. I actually listened to the audiobook for this story and the readers did a fantastic job. I was intrigued the idea of an unreliable narrator, and I am very glad that I knew ahead of time what to expect in that regard. This isn’t a book about truth in the literal sense, but rather truth in the metaphysical sense. What is the truth of the Black experience in America? What if that experience could be forgotten for just one hurting individual? Should it be?
This is a perfect book for anyone who wants to be truly engaged in conversations about racism in America.
“Anything worthwhile takes time. Maybe that’s what time is for: to give meaning to the things we do; to create a context in which we can linger in something until, finally, we have given it something invaluable, something that we can never get back: time. And once we’ve invested the most precious commodity that we will ever have, it suddenly has meaning and importance. So maybe time is just how we measure meaning. Maybe time is how we best measure love.”– Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”
- crucial story of how trauma affects us and the lengths our brains go to cope with it
- masterful weaving together of two narratives
- purposeful flashbacks
- charmingly unreliable narrator
- narrative shifts can be a bit jarring
- there are several details to keep track of as you read before everything comes together at the end
“The whole world of my life spins under a radiant marquee of fear. Day in and day out it kills me, over and over and over again. Kills me dead, just to restart it all tomorrow. And all I can do about it is tell people I’m fine.”– Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”
- Black History Month!
- Those wondering what it is like to be Black.
- Those wanting to enter conversations about racism without making the space about themselves.
Books to Read if You Loved Hell of a Book:
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome
- What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- Who is your favorite Black author or content creator?
- What are the benefits of having an unreliable narrator telling the story?
- Which of the three quotes included in this review speaks to you the most and why?