Shifting Through Neutral

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Overview

"For Rae Dodson, the early seventies are as hopeful and promising as the peace signs popping up everywhere. The signature sounds of Motown are filling Detroit's airwaves, and automobile factories are supporting a burgeoning black middle class, which works by day and plays bid whist by night. Rae's hip older sister, Kimmie, has moved home from New Orleans; her mother's nerves have calmed enough for her to stop taking her "vitamins"; her father has discovered new painkillers that ease his chronic migraines; and now, despite her parents' sleeping in ...
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Fast Shipping! 2004 Recorded Books Edition; Audio Cassette; Ex-library copy with normal library stamps and stickers; Tapes play well; Not remainder

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Prince Frederick, Maryland, U.S.A. 2004 Audio Cassette Plastic Box Unabridged Audio Book on Tape Near Fine in Very Good jacket Audio Cassette Ex-Library This unabridged audio ... book has 8 cassette tapes in near fine condition with a library's initial written on each tape. The plastic case is in very good condition with some stickers on it. This book is narrated by Susan Spain and lasts about 10.75 hours. Read more Show Less

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Shifting Through Neutral

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Overview

"For Rae Dodson, the early seventies are as hopeful and promising as the peace signs popping up everywhere. The signature sounds of Motown are filling Detroit's airwaves, and automobile factories are supporting a burgeoning black middle class, which works by day and plays bid whist by night. Rae's hip older sister, Kimmie, has moved home from New Orleans; her mother's nerves have calmed enough for her to stop taking her "vitamins"; her father has discovered new painkillers that ease his chronic migraines; and now, despite her parents' sleeping in separate rooms, the peace between them seems to be holding. All that shifts, however, when Rae's mother suddenly takes off with her lover down a stretch of highway." Left to care for her ailing father, Rae grows up faster than any young girl should and is forced to admit that her mother may be incapable of love, that her father's love may be too all-consuming. What's most obvious is that neither seems fully capable of looking after Rae, who is searching not only for a way to make her family whole again but also for a way to make sense of her own budding sexuality.
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Editorial Reviews

Holly Bass
This book is much like normal life. No one's ship ever really comes in. Instead people make do and make time and make decisions that seem right at the moment but always have unforeseen consequences. There is no perfect happiness in "Shifting Through Neutral," just a gnawing dissatisfaction interrupted by moments of deep pain and of real, if fleeting, joy.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In her strong debut, indie film director Davis (1996's Naked Acts) deconstructs the daddy's girl myth by viewing it from a fresh African-American perspective. Set in Detroit between 1967 and 1980, this lively coming-of-age tale rocks with the sounds of Stevie Wonder, whose own mother serves as one of the card-playing supporting characters. Rae Dodson has no regrets about sleeping on the back of her slowly dying father, JD, a General Motors assembly-line worker suffering from hypertension and granted disability at age 36, until she's forced, at age nine, to sleep in her own bedroom ("I formed myself out of the five o'clock shadow of his maleness"). The reader braces for the worst, but Davis opts for the high road as she explores the father and daughter's almost symbiotic relationship, contrasting it with the distant one Rae has with her troubled mother, Vy. Meanwhile, Vy waits for Cyril, her lover and the father of Rae's older sister Kimmie, to rescue her from a marriage marred by JD's infidelity. Heartbreak and sudden tragedy compel the appealing Rae to grow up on the fast track. Davis doesn't miss a beat in this moving study of dysfunctional families and the power of transcendent love. Apt driving manual excerpts head each section, while a wonderfully done twist ending strikes a final ironic note. Two thumbs up, and skip the speed bumps at your own risk. Agent, Dawn Davis. 5-city author tour. (May 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Washington Post
“A beautifully rendered first novel that captures the complications of children caught between discontented parents with secret lives.”
Detroit Free Press
“Richly detailed and intimate…Davis eloquently paints a picture seldom seen: the abiding affection black fathers have for their children.”
Atlanta Daily World Celebration of Books Fall 2004
“The author’s prose is poignant, like a strong left hook...sad, but endearing...written with precision and skill.”
Africana.com
“A tender telling that made me long for my own father.”
Trisha R. Thomas
“Lyrical...addictive...haunting. This beautiful coming-of-age story and will assuredly capture many hearts.”
Elizabeth Strout
“Wonderful....In this book...there is...a poignancy that cuts incisively through the tender tissue of family love.”
Benilde Little
“Shifting Through Neutral is a beautifully rendered story by a writer to watch.”
Martha Southgate
“A vibrant...journey through a young woman’s coming-of-age....Hop in—this novel is a ride well worth taking.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781419310355
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 12/22/2004
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Meet the Author

Bridgett M. Davis is an associate professor of English at the City University of New York's Baruch College, where she teaches creative writing and literature. A graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, she is the director of the award-winning feature film Naked Acts. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.

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Read an Excerpt

Shifting Through Neutral


By Davis, Bridgett M.

Amistad Press

ISBN: 0060572493

Chapter One

After he returned to me, I slept every night atop Daddy's broad back. He was a soft, wide man, and miraculously he remained still throughout our slumber -- never rolled over, never pushed me off. How that sleeping arrangement came to be I do not know, but it felt as natural to me as play. As easy as I'd learned the alphabet I learned to identify the reassuring aromas of maleness that sleeping with a man offered: unshaved face, snoring breath, end-of-the-day genitalia.

Even as a little girl, I knew my father needed me. He was a sick man in near-constant pain from migraines and unable to work. He needed me to fetch his medicine, to make cool compresses for his aching head, to massage his temples with my small hands. And he needed me to help fill his days. He left the house only when it was necessary to go to doctor's appointments, to buy food, to cash his pension check. Otherwise, he stayed close to home, not bothering to strike up friendly conversations with the neighbors. My father felt out of sync with these men, who walked out of their front doors each morning dressed in starched shirts and skinny ties, to civil jobs in government offices, their kinky hair kept low. He preferred to wear his hair in defiant waves like Cab Calloway, lie across his sofa bed dressed in elegant silky underwear, and watch daytime TV -- his ears perked for the sound of us schoolchildren walking home along Birchcrest Road, our high, pebbly voices drifting 6 into his open window. Other days, he read hard-luck paperbacks by the light of a naked bulb stuck in an old, shade-less lamp as a transistor radio tossed the blues into the room. He might sometimes drive his sleek gray Cutlass Supreme Oldsmobile to Mr. Alfred's auto body shop, where he'd shoot the breeze. But by the time I skipped up the walkway, book bag slung across my shoulder, face flush from conquering a new cursive letter or the secret to multiplying by nine, he was standing on the porch waiting to greet me. Together we wound through our evening of dinner, cards, TV, close sleep.

This is how Daddy remained alive for me all those years -- by settling into a life of simple actions, slow movements, perpetual rest. Speed brought throbbing headaches, and so he paced himself. When doing nothing still made his head hurt, he mitigated the pain with loose aspirin and later, sleep-inducing injections of Demerol -- eking out as many extra years as he could to embed himself, like a fossil, into my psyche. As a result, I formed myself out of the five o'clock shadow of his maleness.

He hadn't always been sick. The migraines didn't appear until he was thirty-two. Before then, his hypertension was symptom-free, allowing him to spend his young manhood like many migrated southern black men -- gratefully working overtime at factory jobs, eating neck bones and greens slow-cooked by wide-hipped women, playing hard every Friday night after payday.

But I only knew Daddy one way, apart from a few old photographs and scattered stories about his past -- as a doting father worn down by pain. It's the image I savor, the one I prefer. If he'd been a virile, healthy man when I entered his life, who is to say whether he would've stayed at home, giving so much of that life to me?

Daddy knew he was living on borrowed time. In four short years he went from experiencing monthly to weekly migraines -- the kind that lurked behind a low-grade headache, encroaching toward a blunt, excruciating throb that pulsed through his entire body for hours, leaving him nearly weeping and weak with exhaustion -- to daily ones. He was only thirty-six when granted disability from General Motors' assembly lines -- the youngest man in the auto company's history to do so. It must have seemed a financially prudent gesture on his employer's part, given that the company doctor diagnosed his condition as "extreme." It was surely a blow to his ego, finding himself stripped of a livelihood, facing mortality, still so young.

I was the one who over the years convinced myself his hypertension was a health quirk, an inconvenience to be put up with like a sinus condition or a heart murmur. One day as he drove us home from the doctor's office, when I was no longer a child, I asked Daddy, "Just how high is your blood pressure?" We were cruising along Livernois Avenue, past the neon signs of gas stations and the waving flags of car dealerships that added primary color to Detroit's main streets.

"I can't say, exactly," he answered.

"Why doesn't Dr. Corey ever take your pressure anymore?" I wanted to know, remembering a time when his doctor used to roll out the pressure monitor with the big name. The sphygmomanometer. We called it the spiggy. He'd wrap the cuff around Daddy's arm, pump air through the tube, frown as he studied the dial closely.

Daddy shrugged. "He can't. Numbers on the spiggy don't go high enough." And then he chuckled. "How's that for the puniness of modern medicine?"

I laughed too, believing he could beat it.

My parents, Vy and JD, met at a raucous card party when Mama was twenty-four and the single mother of a five-year-old girl named Kimmie. She told him she was divorced. He didn't care one way or the other, liking how she played bid whist -- bidding high even when she knew she couldn't win. He took her again and again to roaming cabarets, where they slow-danced to Sam Cooke tunes -- doing the social, as they called it -- while he sang into her ear of what a wonderful world it would be, causing tiny goose bumps to erupt down her neck. She was his kind of woman, high-class and good-looking ...

Continues...

Excerpted from Shifting Through Neutral by Davis, Bridgett M. 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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First Chapter

Shifting Through Neutral

Chapter One

After he returned to me, I slept every night atop Daddy's broad back. He was a soft, wide man, and miraculously he remained still throughout our slumber -- never rolled over, never pushed me off. How that sleeping arrangement came to be I do not know, but it felt as natural to me as play. As easy as I'd learned the alphabet I learned to identify the reassuring aromas of maleness that sleeping with a man offered: unshaved face, snoring breath, end-of-the-day genitalia.

Even as a little girl, I knew my father needed me. He was a sick man in near-constant pain from migraines and unable to work. He needed me to fetch his medicine, to make cool compresses for his aching head, to massage his temples with my small hands. And he needed me to help fill his days. He left the house only when it was necessary to go to doctor's appointments, to buy food, to cash his pension check. Otherwise, he stayed close to home, not bothering to strike up friendly conversations with the neighbors. My father felt out of sync with these men, who walked out of their front doors each morning dressed in starched shirts and skinny ties, to civil jobs in government offices, their kinky hair kept low. He preferred to wear his hair in defiant waves like Cab Calloway, lie across his sofa bed dressed in elegant silky underwear, and watch daytime TV -- his ears perked for the sound of us schoolchildren walking home along Birchcrest Road, our high, pebbly voices drifting 6 into his open window. Other days, he read hard-luck paperbacks by the light of a naked bulb stuck in an old, shade-less lamp as a transistor radio tossed the blues into the room. He might sometimes drive his sleek gray Cutlass Supreme Oldsmobile to Mr. Alfred's auto body shop, where he'd shoot the breeze. But by the time I skipped up the walkway, book bag slung across my shoulder, face flush from conquering a new cursive letter or the secret to multiplying by nine, he was standing on the porch waiting to greet me. Together we wound through our evening of dinner, cards, TV, close sleep.

This is how Daddy remained alive for me all those years -- by settling into a life of simple actions, slow movements, perpetual rest. Speed brought throbbing headaches, and so he paced himself. When doing nothing still made his head hurt, he mitigated the pain with loose aspirin and later, sleep-inducing injections of Demerol -- eking out as many extra years as he could to embed himself, like a fossil, into my psyche. As a result, I formed myself out of the five o'clock shadow of his maleness.

He hadn't always been sick. The migraines didn't appear until he was thirty-two. Before then, his hypertension was symptom-free, allowing him to spend his young manhood like many migrated southern black men -- gratefully working overtime at factory jobs, eating neck bones and greens slow-cooked by wide-hipped women, playing hard every Friday night after payday.

But I only knew Daddy one way, apart from a few old photographs and scattered stories about his past -- as a doting father worn down by pain. It's the image I savor, the one I prefer. If he'd been a virile, healthy man when I entered his life, who is to say whether he would've stayed at home, giving so much of that life to me?

Daddy knew he was living on borrowed time. In four short years he went from experiencing monthly to weekly migraines -- the kind that lurked behind a low-grade headache, encroaching toward a blunt, excruciating throb that pulsed through his entire body for hours, leaving him nearly weeping and weak with exhaustion -- to daily ones. He was only thirty-six when granted disability from General Motors' assembly lines -- the youngest man in the auto company's history to do so. It must have seemed a financially prudent gesture on his employer's part, given that the company doctor diagnosed his condition as "extreme." It was surely a blow to his ego, finding himself stripped of a livelihood, facing mortality, still so young.

I was the one who over the years convinced myself his hypertension was a health quirk, an inconvenience to be put up with like a sinus condition or a heart murmur. One day as he drove us home from the doctor's office, when I was no longer a child, I asked Daddy, "Just how high is your blood pressure?" We were cruising along Livernois Avenue, past the neon signs of gas stations and the waving flags of car dealerships that added primary color to Detroit's main streets.

"I can't say, exactly," he answered.

"Why doesn't Dr. Corey ever take your pressure anymore?" I wanted to know, remembering a time when his doctor used to roll out the pressure monitor with the big name. The sphygmomanometer. We called it the spiggy. He'd wrap the cuff around Daddy's arm, pump air through the tube, frown as he studied the dial closely.

Daddy shrugged. "He can't. Numbers on the spiggy don't go high enough." And then he chuckled. "How's that for the puniness of modern medicine?"

I laughed too, believing he could beat it.

My parents, Vy and JD, met at a raucous card party when Mama was twenty-four and the single mother of a five-year-old girl named Kimmie. She told him she was divorced. He didn't care one way or the other, liking how she played bid whist -- bidding high even when she knew she couldn't win. He took her again and again to roaming cabarets, where they slow-danced to Sam Cooke tunes -- doing the social, as they called it -- while he sang into her ear of what a wonderful world it would be, causing tiny goose bumps to erupt down her neck. She was his kind of woman, high-class and good-looking ...

Shifting Through Neutral. Copyright © by Bridgett Davis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

For Rae Datsun, the early 70s are as hopeful and promising as the prolific as the Peace signs. The signature sounds of Motown are filling Detroit's airwaves and the automobile factories are supporting a burgeoning middle class who work by day and play by night. Rae's hip, older sister has moved back home from New Orleans; her mother's nerves have calmed enough for her to stop taking her "vitamins"; and her father has new painkillers that ease his chronic migraines. But all that changes when Rae's mother suddenly takes off down a stretch of highway with her one true love, taking Rae's beloved sister along with her. Left to care for her ailing father, Rae grows up faster than any young girl should and is forced to confront the cracks in her world.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the author show intimacy between Rae and her father? How does Rae react when her father begins to withdraw as she grows older?

  2. What is the significance of the title and how does it connect to the main characters' lives?

  3. How does music function throughout the book?

  4. How does Kimmie's death impact the dynamics of the relationships in the household?

About the author

Bridgett M. Davis is an associate professor of English at City University of New York's Baruch College, where she teaches film writing, journalism, and literature. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and son.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2005

    Excellent A Must Read

    An excellent read!!! The imagery from the first page permeated through the book and made it impossible to put down. It's great I can't wait to read her next book she's a great author.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2004

    Unexpected

    I received the book as a gift, and just dove in not knowing what to expect. What fascinated me about this book immediately is how well the author conveys the sense of Rae's internal dialogue, more adult than child most of the time. Yet, Rae finds great moments of joy when she is functioning as an adult and as a child. You just root for her more during her childlike joys. This was not my only fascination with this book, but I don't want to taint your experience with it. It marked my fall; I bought a hammock and enjoyed reading it as the leaves dropped. Now I'm giving it to friends for Christmas.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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