Man Gone Down: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview


On the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday, the unnamed black narrator of Man Gone Down finds himself broke, estranged from his white 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 school and make a down payment on an apartment for them in which to live. 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 ...
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Man Gone Down: A Novel

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Overview


On the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday, the unnamed black narrator of Man Gone Down finds himself broke, estranged from his white 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 school and make a down payment on an apartment for them in which to live. 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 America. This is a story of the American Dream gone awry, about what it’s like to feel preprogrammed to fail in life and the urge to escape that sentence.

Winner of the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

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Editorial Reviews

Kaiama L. Glover
Thomas seems to have fully embraced the “write what you know” ethos. And what he knows is how the odds are stacked in America. He knows the unlikelihood of successful black fatherhood. He knows that things are set up to keep the Other poor and the poor in their place. More than anything else, he knows how little but also - fortunately - how much it can take to bring a man down.
— The New York Times
Tiny McElroy Ansa
In the end, the novel itself is rather like its main character: a brilliant and frustrating social experiment that is still quite worthy of our attention.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Born poor, black and brilliant in a Boston ghetto, the unnamed man of the title is, at 35, crashing at a friend's place in New York , trying to scrape up enough money to keep his family afloat. As he reluctantly returns to the construction jobs that he thought he'd left behind and works to collect on old debts (and defer his own), he narrates his Boston bildung and traces his early years and the history of his relationship with his white Boston Brahmin wife, Claire. His childhood was marked by parental neglect and early experiments with heavy alcohol consumption. A natural writer, he was taken under the wing of a prominent black intellectual during his college years, but didn't follow through as his relationship with Claire and then the demands of married life intensified. Now, as he struggles to support a life he isn't sure he believes in, he is tempted to return to drink, give up on his marriage and abandon his children, although Claire has demonstrated her unwavering support. For all of the introspection and occasional indulgence in self-pity, the narrator retains a note of hard-won optimism, and Thomas resolutely steers him clear of sentimentality. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
An impoverished writer wanders Brooklyn in search of the money that will reunite him with his family. Having survived horrific abuse as a child and alcoholism as an adult, the unnamed protagonist continues to suffer. Part Native American, part African American, he is obsessed with his wife's whiteness, his children's ambiguous ethnic identities, and the perceived slights of his neighbors. A father of three, he refuses to take a steady job, finish his doctoral dissertation, or even respond when addressed. This debut is ambitious, paying homage to James Joyce and Ralph Ellison, but it often suffers from writing-workshop laziness, as when Thomas details the flavor of his character's belches, the precise route of his walks, the highs and lows of his cigarettes. While the narrator's every bodily sensation and painful memory are probed, no other characters are granted interiority. Just as the perspective of this novel is selfish, its values are worldly: in what purports to be a story about art and injustice, redemption is defined as a lease for a posh address and tuition for a left-leaning prep school. Recommended for collections specializing in African American fiction or Brooklyn local interest. Leora Bersohn, doctoral student, Columbia Univ., New York Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One man's desperate scramble for cash, shaped into an outsized metaphorical novel on race, class and other American tensions. The 35-year-old narrator of Thomas's debut novel is a man of many talents: He's taught college English, worked construction and played guitar in clubs, all while conquering alcoholism and starting a family in Brooklyn. And as his story begins, all he's got to show for it is bupkus: Both he and his wife are out of work, and he has four days to scare up the five figures necessary to land a new apartment and cover the tuition for his sons' private school. That struggle gives this tale its narrative arc, but Thomas spends much of his time meditating on the past of his hero, who identifies as black though he also claims Irish and Native American blood and ponders how much race has both supported and oppressed him. It's an ambitious idea-with some obvious parallels to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man-and the book is filled with some virtuoso passages that expose the subtle degrees of racism in the narrator's world. The relatives of his wife, who is white, are condescending without being aware of it; a day-labor site turns into a proving ground between him and his Latino coworkers; and the climactic scenes on a country-club golf course detail a few unspoken moral compromises that blacks and whites make to get along with one another. It's to Thomas's credit that he takes care to not compress his scenes into simplistic parables about race, but the book's breadth is more sprawling than ambitious. The reader is presented with so many characters-in-laws, parents, friends, drinking buddies, teachers, folks from the neighborhood-that it all ultimately feels more like a fuzzysatellite photo of Brooklyn than a clear portrait of a single person. Thomas is a talented observer of how people interact and what dire financial straits feels like, but he's packed more than a couple books' worth of observations into one. Agent: Eileen Cope/Trident Media Group
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555847456
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 419,143
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author


Michael Thomas was born and raised in Boston. He’s been a cab driver, carpenter, restaurateur and filmmaker. He received his BA from Hunter College and his MFA from Warren Wilson College. He teaches at Hunter and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Man Gone Down is his first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

MAN GONE DOWN


By Michael Thomas

Black Cat

Copyright © 2007 Michael Thomas
All right reserved.




Chapter One

I know I'm not doing well. I have an emotional relationship with a fish-Thomas Strawberry. My oldest son, C, named him, and that name was given weight because a six-year-old voiced it as though he'd had an epiphany: "He looks like a strawberry." The three adults in the room had nodded in agreement.

"I only gave you one," his godfather, Jack, the marine biologist, told him. "If you have more than one, they kill each other." Jack laughed. He doesn't have kids. He doesn't know that one's not supposed to speak of death in front of them and cackle. One speaks of death in hushed, sober tones-the way one speaks of alcoholism, race, or secret bubble gum a younger sibling can't have. Jack figured it out on some level from the way both C and X looked at him blankly and then stared into the small aquarium, perhaps envisioning a battle royal between a bowlful of savage little fish, or the empty space left behind. We left the boys in their bedroom and took the baby with us. "They don't live very long," he whispered to us. "About six weeks." That was C's birthday in February. It's August, and he's not dead.

He's with me on the desk, next to my stack of books and legal pads. I left my laptop at my mother-in-law's for C to use. She'd raised an eyebrow as I started to the door. Allegedly, my magnum opus was on that hard drive-the book that would launch my career and provide me with the financialindependence she desired. "I write better if the first draft is longhand." She hadn't believed me. It had been a Christmas gift from Claire. I remember opening it and being genuinely surprised. All three children had stopped to see what was in the box.

"Merry Christmas, honey," she'd cooed in my ear. She then took me by the chin and gently turned my face to meet hers. "This is your year." She kissed me-too long-and the children, in unison, looked away. The computer was sleek and gray and brimming with the potential to organize my thoughts, my work, my time. It would help extract that last portion of whatever it was that I was working on and buff it with the requisite polish to make it salable. "This is our year." Her eyes looked glazed, as though she had been intoxicated by the machine's power, the early hour, and the spirit of the season. It had been bought, I was sure, with her mother's money. And I knew Edith had never believed me to have any literary talent, but she'd wanted to make her daughter feel supported and loved-although she probably had expected it to end like this. C had seemed happy when I left, though, sitting on the floor with his legs stretched under the coffee table, the glow from the screen washing out his copper skin.

"Bye, C."

"By-ye." He'd made it two syllables. He hadn't looked up.

Marco walks up the stairs and stops outside his kid's study, where I'm working. He knocks on the door. I don't know whether to be thankful or annoyed, but the door's open and it's his house. I try to be as friendly as I can.

"Yo!"

"Yo! What's up?" He walks in. I turn halfway and throw him a wave. He comes to the desk and looks down at the stack of legal pads.

"Damn, you're cranking it out, man."

"I'm writing for my life." He laughs. I don't. I wonder if he notices.

"Is it a novel?"

I can't explain to him that three pads are one novel and seven are another, but what I'm working on is a short story. I can't tell him that each hour I have what I believe to be an epiphany, and I must begin again-thinking about my life.

"Want to eat something?"

"No thanks, man, I have to finish this part."

I turn around on the stool. I'm being rude. He's moved back to the doorway, leaning. His tie's loose. He holds his leather bag in one hand and a fresh beer in the other. He's dark haired, olive skinned, and long nosed. He's five-ten and in weekend racquetball shape. He stands there, framed by a clear, solid maple jamb. Next to him is more millwork-a solid maple bookcase, wonderfully spare, with books and photos and his son's trophies. There's a picture of his boy with C. They were on the same peewee soccer team. They're grinning, holding trophies in front of what I believe to be my leg. Marco clinks his wedding band on the bottle. I stare at him. I've forgotten what we were talking about. I hope he'll pick me up.

"Want me to bring you something back?"

"No, man. Thanks, I'm good."

I'm broke, but I can't tell him this because while his family's away on Long Island for the summer, I'm sleeping in his kid's bed and he earns daily what I, at my best, earn in a month, because he has a beautiful home, because in spite of all this, I like him. I believe he's a decent man.

"All right, man." He goes to take a sip, then stops. He's probably learned of my drinking problem through the neighborhood gossip channels, but he's never confirmed any of it with me.

"Call me on the cell if you change your mind."

He leaves. In the margins, I tally our monthly costs. "We need to make $140,000 a year," Claire told me last week. I compute that I'll have to teach twenty-two freshman comp sections a semester as well as pick up full-time work as a carpenter. Thomas Strawberry swims across his bowl to face me.

"I fed you," I say to him as though he's my dog. He floats, puckering his fish lips. Thomas, at one time, had the whole family copying his pucker face, but the boys got tired of it. The little one, my girl, kept doing it-the fish, the only animal she'd recognize. "What does the cow say?" I'd ask. "What does the cat say?" She'd stare at me, blankly, giving me the deadeye that only children can give-a glimpse of her indecipherable consciousness. "What does the fish say?" She'd pucker, the same way as when I'd ask her for a kiss-the fish face and a forehead to the cheekbone.

I packed my wife and kids into my mother-in-law's enormous Mercedes Benz at 7:45 p.m. on Friday, June 26. It was essential for both Claire and her mother to leave Brooklyn by eight with the kids fed and washed and ready for sleep for the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Massachusetts. Claire, I suppose, had learned the trick of planning long drives around sleeping schedules from her mother. Road trips required careful planning and the exact execution of those plans. I'd have to park in the bus stop on Atlantic Avenue in front of our building then run the bags, toys, books, and snacks down the stairs, trying to beat the thieves and meter maids. Then I'd signal for Claire to bring the kids down, and we'd strap them into their seats, equipping them with juice and crackers and their special toys. Then, in her mind, she'd make one last sweep of the house, while I'd calculate the cost of purchasing whatever toiletries I knew I'd left behind.

After the last bathroom check and the last seatbelt check, we'd be off. We'd sing. We'd tell stories. We'd play I Spy. Then one kid would drop off and we'd shush the other two until Jersey or Connecticut and continue to shush until the last one dropped. There's something about children sleeping in cars, perhaps something felt by parents, and perhaps only by the parents of multiple children-their heads tilted, their mouths open, eyes closed. The stillness and the quiet that had vanished from your life returns, but you must be quiet-respect their stillness, their silence. You must also make the most of it. It's when you speak about important things that you don't want them to hear: money, time, death-we'd almost whisper. We'd honor their breath, their silence, knowing that their faces would be changed each time they awoke, one nap older, that less easily lulled to sleep. Before we had children, we joked, we played music loud, we talked about a future with children. "What do you think they'll be like?" she'd ask. But I knew I could never voice the image in my head and make it real for her-our child; my broad head, her sharp nose, blond afro, and freckles-the cacophony phenotype alone caused. I would shake my head. She'd smile and whine, "What?" playfully, as though I was flirting with or teasing her, but in actuality, I was reeling from the picture of the imagined face, the noise inside her dichotomized mind, and the ache of his broken mongrel heart.

X was already beginning to fade when Edith turned on the engine. The sun was setting over the East River. The corrugated metal warehouses, the giant dinosaur-like cranes, and the silver chassis of the car were swept with a mix of rosy light and shadow. I used to drink on a hill in a park outside of Boston with my best friend, Gavin. He'd gotten too drunk at too many high school parties and he wasn't welcome at them anymore, so we drank by ourselves outside. We'd say nothing and watch the sun set. And when the light was gone from the sky, one of us would try to articulate whatever was troubling us that day.

"Okay, honey." Claire was buckling up. "We're all in." Edith tried to smile at me and mouthed, "Bye." She took a hand off the wheel and gave a short wave. I closed C's door and looked in at him to wave good-bye, but he was watching the dome light slowly fade from halogen white through orange to umber-soft and warm enough through its transitions to temporarily calm the brassiness of Edith's hair. I saw him say, "Cool" as it dulled, suspended on the ceiling, ember-like. Perhaps it reminded him of a fire he'd once seen in its dying stages, or a sunset. I watched him until it went off, and there was more light outside the car than in and he was partially obscured by my reflection.

C said something to his grandmother and his window lowered. He unbuckled himself and got up on his knees. Edith put the car in gear.

"Sit down and buckle up, hon." C didn't acknowledge her and stuck his hand out the window.

"Say good-bye to your dad."

"Bye, Daddy."

There was something about daddy versus dad. Something that made it seem as though it was the last good-bye he'd say to me as a little boy. X's eyes were closed. My girl yawned, shook her head, searched for and then found her bottle in her lap. C was still waving. Edith rolled up all the windows. Claire turned to tell him to sit, and they pulled away.

Thomas Strawberry's bowl looks cloudy. There's bright green algae growing on the sides, leftover food and what I imagine to be fish poop on the bottom-charcoal-green balls that list back and forth, betraying an underwater current. Cleaning his bowl is always difficult for me because the risk of killing him seems so high. I don't know how much trauma a little fish can handle. So I hold off cleaning until his habitat resembles something like a bayou backwater-more suitable for a catfish than for Thomas. He has bright orange markings and elaborate fins. He looks flimsy-effete. I can't imagine him fighting anything, especially one of his own.

I tap the glass and remember aquarium visits and classroom fish tanks. There was always a sign or a person in charge warning not to touch the glass. Thomas swims over to me, and while he examines my fingertip, I sneak the net in behind him. I scoop him out of the water. He wriggles and then goes limp. He does this every time, and every time I think I've killed him. I let him out into his temporary lodgings. He darts out of the net, back to life, and swims around the much smaller confines of the cereal bowl. I clean his bowl in the bathroom sink and refill it with the tepid water I believe he likes. I go back to the desk. He's stopped circling. I slowly pour him back in. I wonder if his stillness in the net is because of shock or if he's playing possum. The latter of the two ideas suggests the possibility of a fishy consciousness. Since school begins for the boys in two weeks and I haven't found an apartment, a job, or paid tuition, I let it go.

I wonder if I'm too damaged. Baldwin somewhere once wrote about someone who had "a wound that he would never recover from," but I don't remember where. He also wrote about a missing member that was lost but still aching. Maybe something inside of me was no longer intact. Perhaps something had been cut off or broken down-collateral damage of the diaspora. Marco seems to be intact. Perhaps he was damaged, too. Perhaps whatever he'd had was completely lost, or never there. I wonder if I'm too damaged. Thomas Strawberry puckers at me. I tap the glass. He swims away.

I had a girlfriend in high school named Sally, and one day I told her everything. How at the age of six I'd been treed by an angry mob of adults who hadn't liked the idea of Boston busing. They threw rocks up at me, yelling, "Nigger go home!" And how the policeman who rescued me called me "Sammy." How I'd been sodomized in the bathroom of the Brighton Boys Club when I was seven, and how later that year, my mother, divorced and broke, began telling me that she should've flushed me down the toilet when she'd had the chance. I told Sally that from the day we met, I'd been writing poems about it all, for her, which I then gave to her. She held the book of words like it was a cold brick, with a glassy film, not tears, forming in front of her eyes. I fear, perhaps, that I'm too damaged. In the margins of the yellow pad I write down titles for the story-unholy trinities: Drunk, Black, and Stupid. Black, Broke, and Stupid. Drunk, Black, and Blue. The last seems the best-the most melodic, the least concrete. Whether or not it was a mystery remained to be seen.

The phone rings. It's Claire.

"Happy almost birthday."

"Thanks."

It's been three weeks since I've seen my family. Three weeks of over-the-phone progress reports. We've used up all the platitudes we know. Neither of us can stand it.

"Are you coming?"

"Yeah."

"How?"

It's a setup. She knows I can't afford the fare.

"Do you have something lined up for tomorrow?"

"Yeah," I answer. As of now it's a lie, but it's nine. I have till Labor Day to come up with several thousand dollars for a new apartment and long overdue bills, plus an extra fifty for the bus. It's unlikely, but not unreasonable.

"Did you get the security check from Marta?" she asks, excited for a moment that someone owes us money.

"No."

"Fuck." She breathes. Claire's never been convincing when she curses. She sighs purposefully into the receiver. "Do you have a plan?"

"I'll make a plan."

"Will you let me know?"

"I'll let you know."

"I dropped my mother at the airport this morning."

"It's her house, I like your mother." It's a lie, but I've never, in the twelve years we've been together, shown any evidence of my contempt.

"I think C wants a Ronaldo shirt." She stops. "Not the club team. He wants a Brazil one." Silence again. "Is that possible?"

"I'll try." More silence. "How's your nose?"

"It's fine." She sighs. She waits. I can tell she's crunching numbers in her head. She turns her voice up to sound excited. "We'd all love to see you," then turns it back down-soft, caring, to pad the directive. "Make a plan."

Chapter Two

The last time I saw them was late July at Edith's. The boys and I were in the kitchen. X was naked and broad-jumping tiles, trying to clear at least three at once. C had stopped stirring his potion, put down his makeshift magic wand and was pumping up a soccer ball. I was sipping coffee, watching them. We were listening to the Beatles. C was mouthing the words, X was singing aloud while in the air. As he jumped, he alternated between the lyrics and dinosaur names: Thump. "Dilophosaurus." Jump. "She's got a ticket to ride ..." Thump. "Parasaurolophus." His muscles flexed and elongated-too much mass and too well defined for a boy, even a man-boy, especially one with such a tiny, lispy voice. He vaulted up onto the round table. It rocked. I braced it. He stood up and flashed a toothy smile.

"Sorry, Daddy."

X looks exactly like me. Not me at three years old, me as a man. He has a man's body and a man's head, square jawed, no fat or softness. He has everything except the stubble, scars, and age lines. X looks exactly like me except he's white. He has bright blue-gray eyes that at times fade to green. They're the only part of him that at times looks young, wild, and unfocused, looking at you but spinning everywhere. In the summer he's blond and bronze-colored. He looks like a tan elf on steroids. It would seem fitting to tie a sword to his waist and strap a shield on his back.

Continues...



Excerpted from MAN GONE DOWN by Michael Thomas Copyright © 2007 by Michael Thomas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2008

    A reviewer

    I was fortunate enough to have Mr. Thomas as a professor at Hunter college so when I heard that he was about to publish a book, I quickly researched when it would be available. I read it in less than three days. It was absolutely stunning. He is a brilliantly humble man who like the New York Times reviewer said 'writes what he knows.' It is not one of those novels you read where the author seems a little too full of himself to really mean what he is saying. I hung on his every last word and was devastated when it ended. Can't wait for his next one.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2008

    A compelling story of one man's struggle to define his past, present & future...

    One of the most appealing qualities of a great novel is its ability to draw you in and sweep you away to a different place, situation and circumstance other than your own. It will cause you to wonder, reflect and dream. This story of determination and hope achieves just that. Not only was I fortunate enough to come across this book by mere chance - I happened to see a review on television one day - but I am also very fortunate to have had this author as a professor at Hunter College several years ago. Bravo Professor Thomas! I hope to read more from you in the near future.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2008

    simple and amazing

    an amazing book that succeeds at everything it attempts to be.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2012

    Love this book. It's self-consciously literary without losing a

    Love this book. It's self-consciously literary without losing a kind of down to earth aspect which lends it an authenticity that few novelists
    achieve in a first effort. One of the qualities that stand out in Thomas' book in particular, at least for me, are the way he uses '60s icons like Baldwin or King 
    as a philosophical touchstone for a series of broader ideas about the kind of social experiment that the narrator and other members of his
    generation have come to represent early in the 21st century. Another involves his way of using what are often little noticed physical traits,
    like the condition of a person's teeth for instance, to indicate certain elements of one's character. It's mindful of Bellow at his best.
    My only caveat is that Thomas' hasn't published anything else since then. I hope that he can be a little more prolific in the future.

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    Posted November 28, 2010

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    Posted July 10, 2011

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    Posted May 21, 2011

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    Posted February 3, 2009

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