Good evening to you, Story366!
The weekend is coming to an end, but it was a good weekend, full of rest, relaxation, and catching up on a lot of things I had to do—the house is pretty clean, we started cooking again, and we even went for a swim today. It was the Karen‘s idea, thinking it best to get out of the house and put our bodies in motion, and I have to admit, I was hesitant: I really wanted to do nothing this weekend. But as soon as the word “pool” hit the airwaves, the boys were pretty psyched, as it’s been overcast, rainy, and cold here for weeks. We got into our swimsuits and headed the community center on the south side of town, the one with the biggest pool, the most room to watergraze our day away.
As I’ve noted in this blog all year, I’ve not felt particularly healthy since sometime around Thanksgiving. That’s a long time to feel nasty. There was the Sickpocalypse, but that was just a bad week. Overall, I’ve had some sort of bug for the longest time, with intermitten colds thrown in. Along with not feeling well, I’ve not been active at all, no sense of exercise, not even hikes out in the woods, which we usually go on two or three times a week. Going to the pool today seemed like a task, but as it turns out, it was a blessing. In the pool, I was able to stretch out, stretch like I can’t on dry land. I can twist my legs and back and hips into all kinds of positions without the fear of falling on my face or pulling something vital. The low-impact environment was the perfect transition from completely inactive Mike to somewhat limber Mike. Somewhat limber Mike doesn’t ache when he walks or breathes or thinks, meaning I can actually picture myself exercising in the near future, when this morning, I could not. After an hour of contorting my body into all configurations, I actually journeyed over to the lap lanes to see what I could do.
The oldest boy, who’s working on Scout badges, went first. He hasn’t swam in months, yet he knocked out several laps like it was nothing. The kid is 13 and that’s just one of the great benefits of being 13. My turn next and I attempted the Scout swim test—three lengths of the pool freestyle, one length backstroke—and was barely able to eek it out. I’d qualify for the deep end, had we been at camp. More than that, I actually exercised, used my muscles to do more than grade a paper or open the fridge.
I feel a new wind beneath my sails.
For today’s post, the seventh and final day of my Black History Month Week, I read from Rion Amilcar Scott‘s 2019 collection, The World Doesn’t Require You, brought to us by Liveright Publishing. This is a book I knew about when it came out last summer because of all the hype it had generated, but left until now because I wasn’t in reading mode until this year. Glad to get to such an important book—on a lot of year-end best lists and prize-finalist-type things—so here we go.
I’m writing about the lead story today, as I like it a lot. Plus, there is no official title story, and in my readings, I didn’t come across a story that used that phrase. Anyway, “David Sherman, the Last Son of God” is about David Sherman, whose father is God. Or at least that’s what the story claims and sticks to it. God was a man who lived in Scott’s fictional Cross River (something like the author’s native Maryland, methinks) and sired five boys by five different women. David Sherman was the last, because God told himself to stop having boys, and as Scott notes, who is God to argue with himself? God wasn’t around full-time for David, leaving for good when David turned twelve, then committing suicide when David was sixteen, walking into a river with a pocketful of rocks, like “a crazy poet.” The story moves forward with the notion that David’s father was indeed God and that’s that.
David grows up with a gift for music, able to teach himself to play anything. He starts by banging on overturned buckets and pans and thinks himself the king of bucket drumming, until he gets scorched in a face-off with Randall, who quickly becomes his best friend and bandmate. David and Randall start playing in David’s brother’s church—David’s brother is named Jesus Jesuson, or Jeez for short, and is the oldest of God’s five boys. It’s a legitimate gig and Jeez does his best to keep David on the straight and narrow.
All of this is tested when David spies a new drumset in a store window, one that he and Randall absolutely have to have if they’re going to make it as musicians. The pair tries pooling their money, asking for loans, and outright petitioning Jeez to buy them the set. They strike out on all attempts. David then remembers his father’s, God’s, shotgun, hidden in his mother’s house, so he and Randall set out on robbing a liquor store to get the money for the drums. Tragically, Randall is killed by the liquor store owner—not his first armed robbery—and David is shot in the ass and sent to prison for three and a half years.
When David gets out, he’s still determined to become a musician. He seeks out the help of another brother, also the pastor of his own church, this one called Christ Christson, or Christ III. Christ III lets David form a gospel band and play at his church. David puts together a talented group, but keeps firing drummers, no one filling the role as well as Randall (at least in David’s heavy-hearted eyes). David meets and marries a member of Christ III’s congregation, has a baby of his own, and seems to be on the road to a good life.
Eventually, though, attendance at Christ III’s church falls and Christ III gives David an ultimatum: He has a month to come up with a new type of music, the same old gospel not filling the pews like it used to. It’s a Herculean task, inventing a new type of music, and David eventually gets counsel from God, his father, on what he should do, how he can save his job and make his mark.
I won’t reveal what that advice is, or what happens in the rest of the story. Scott, however, delivers the goods, as what happens more than satisfactorily ends this story, matches the promise of everything that came before it. “David Sherman, the Last Son of God” is a long story, but I burned through it without looking up, Scott’s prose and compelling narrative not letting me go for a second.
I like the other stories I read from the book. “The Nigger Knockers” is about a couple of old friends reliving an old childhood game, sort of in the name of science, but also sort of not. “The Electric Joy of Service” is like the most disturbing Isaac Asimov story of all time, but I loved what Scott does with it, how exactly he makes it so unsettling. “On the Occasion of the Death of Freddie Lee” is a touching piece about a guy dealing with the death of his friend. I really want to read the novella at the end of the book, “Special Topics in Loneliness Studies,” but just didn’t have time today; I hope I get to it soon.
So, thus ends my week of covering books by black authors, commemorating Black History Month. As I noted at the start of this, I really wish I’d found more books, had put something lengthier together. Still, I read seven excellent collections, not a weak link in the bunch, giving me new perspectives on issues I have the privilege of not having to think about all the time. I also have a lot of new stories for the storybank, the index of pdfs I use for my classes, and my students will be reading some of these stories soon. The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott is as good of an ending for the week as I can think of, his stories smart, well crafted, and compelling from beginning to end. I will read and write about more books by black authors throughout the year—it’s my goal to read every story collection ever, don’t forget—but for now, here’s to a great week, a great experience.