October 21, 2020: “Three Insurrections” by Rion Amilcar Scott

How goes it, Story366?

Well, it happened: Someone stole the Biden/Harris sign from my front yard. I want to be really angry about this, but for some reason, I’m not. For one, it’s easily replaceable. Two, it was up for nearly a month without this happening, and that’s surprising to me as anything. Three, I don’t know if there’s a three. I guess I don’t have the energy right now to get too upset over that. Which is startling, because someone came onto my property, took something that belongs to me, in some sort of political statement, a statement that’s likely opposite of mine. That’s the very definition of what makes me mad. Yet I’m not. Could be I’m busy today, without the Karen in town, to deal with that. Maybe it’s because I had a meeting right after I saw it missing and had my mind set on that. Perhaps, deep down, I knew it was inevitable.

Regardless of my current rage level, these next two weeks, and after, are going to get ugly. Stealing a sign from my yard could be the champagne bottle breaking on the side of the ship. If so, I hope I can retain this level of calm. I’ll keep you posted.

Today I continue on with this Two-Timer’s Week at Story366, where I cover authors for a second time, for a different book. Rion Amilcar Scott is today’s Two-Timer. I covered his most recent collection, The World Doesn’t Require You, earlier this year, and today I read from his debut, 2017’s Insurrections, out from the University Press of Kentucky. This one won Scott the Pen Bingham Prize for first collections, and is as good as The World Doesn’t Require You. It was my pleasure to read more of his work today and to feature him again here.

Insurrections starts with “Good Times.” This story features Walter and begins with him looking out on his balcony and seeing legs dangling down from above. He ascertains that a man is hanging—having hung himself—and Walter acts fast enough to save the man’s life, with the help of his wife, Laura. The man’s name is Rashid, who claims he got caught in some ropes and fell off the side—that he did not attempt suicide. Walter and Laura let him return upstairs to his wife and son. Weeks later, Rashid knocks on Walter’s door, beers in tow, and the two men have a long discussion, wherein Rashid admits he did try to take his life. Rashid is pretty messed up, the pressures of his everyday life really working on him, making him drink and try to kill himself. Things only get worse when some time later, Walter and Laura attend a disastrous birthday party for Rashid’s son, one in which Rashid is depressed and still in his pajamas. Later that day, Rashid shows up to Walter’s door, stinking drunk and wearing a Cookie Monster costume, and, well, things get worse from there before they get better when that’s your current state.

“202 Checkmates” is about this little girl whose father teaches her to play chess. As the title indicates, she keeps track of all of her losses to her father, stretching over more than five years. She gets really good along the way—her father was a champion as a kid—and even gets some extra tutelage from Manny, a rival of her father, of sorts, who plays chess in the park. By the end of the story, on our hero’s birthday, she plays her father once more, on a brand-new marble set he got her as a gift, a gift their family could not afford.

The titlesque story, “Three Insurrections,” is about Kin Sampson, who is in the hospital with a 107-degree fever (106 starts boiling your brain, by the way). Kin caught something while on a foray into the Wildlands, which is some kind of extreme outback near Cross River, Maryland (where, by the way, a lot of these stories take place), where nobody of any right mind goes. Kin is in the hospital with his father and mother, trying to figure out what he has and to bring his fever down. When his mom leaves to help Kin’s wife watch their child, that leaves Kin Sampson and his dad, Neville. And there the story really starts.

Neville wants know why Kin was so foolish as to go into the Wildlands, but Kin won’t reveal that. Instead, he wants his father to tell him how his family ended up in Cross River. Neville is more than happy to oblige, and 95 percent of the story is this story within the story, Neville’s tale from the past.

We flash back to the sixties and Neville is a student at Howard University. We jump around a bit in this timeline, but we do have one time marker that holds the thread together: Martin Luther King, Jr., has been assassinated. Howard has shut down for the day, understandably leaving Neville in a daze.

Riots have started up all over the country, including in D.C., and Neville becomes a part of them, mostly as an observer. Eventually, though, it becomes too hard not to take part and Neville falls to his temptations, as so many others do.

The riots, however, are just part of what’s going on, more of a backdrop to how Neville deals with the tragedy, with his life. He’s also picked up a book, entitled Three Insurrections, that tells the story of three particular uprisings: one in Haiti many years before, one in Cross River, Maryland, after Dr. King’s shooting, and one that hasn’t yet happened. He reads the book over and over, inspiring him, but eventually loses track of it. Oddly, he can’t find it in the library again, can’t find it in any bookstore, and even in the current day, can find no record of it in on the Internet. It’s as if he conjured this book in his imagination. Neville remains inspired nonetheless, by the stories of people successfully facing their oppressors.

From that point on, Neville become obsessed with Cross River, and after getting his law degree, he settled there, found Kin’s mom, and had Kin.

There’s more to this story, including a lot of Neville’s relationship with his own father, plus more that went down in the wake of the King assassination. Of course, I’m not relaying the urgency and emotion that Scott is able to, Neville young and black in the midst of these happenings. Does any of it prompt Kin to tell his story, why he ventured into the woods? That would be another story.

Glad I got to read more of Rion Amilcar’s Scott work, that these two collections of his exist. Insurrections is another testament to just how talented this author is, how he can spin a story. Scott’s tales ooze with graceful elegance, dead-on dialogue, and stakes that are at times so overwhelming, the stories seem like little miracles. This is a powerful collection of stories, from an artist who’s emerged as one of the masters of his craft.