Shaming The Devil
by G. Winston James
Shaming the Devil by G. Winston James shook me and would not let go. Being black and queer, I jumped on the chance to read this book of very black, very gay, very sharp short stories. After the first story, I had to switch off my black lesbian brain temporarily to give my full attention/self to what James is bringing in this compilation. I admit to reading mostly work by women writers, so I chose this book in an effort to widen my reading range. It was an easy choice and was highly recommended by the wife.
That he is a natural storyteller is obvious and that you will get drawn into each story is a given. Some of my favorites, “Rahen,” “John,” and “The Embrace” are stark in their differences, but equally effective in thought-provoking themes.
The book on the whole has a rhythm. Not all short story collections pull this off, but from beginning to end feels like a crescendo building. It could have been my anticipation, but I really didn’t know what to expect when I started. I got through the first story (nearly cringing all the way) and from there relaxed into the stories until fully immersed. The first story was the hardest for me, as it tackled issues of family dysfunction and incest. James delves into themes of burgeoning sexuality, abuse, violence against the gay community, mental health, identity vs societal expectation with unapologetic artistry. And this is really just skimming the surface of what the book encompasses.
He has not held back anything in his sketches of the characters. The reader has an unflinching gaze on the night-wanderings of men in search of themselves in other men at a public park. The plot-twist at the end (“Under an Early Autumn Moon”) was one I could never have seen coming. “Rahen” was a disheartening account of exploring identity in childhood for which there has never been and still is no simple solution. Still, it is sensitive in its revealing. The story “John” is full of unexpected developments—some you can get into (if it floats your boat) and some that just give you a jolt. “The Embrace” is by far my favorite, and it also the last story (remember the crescendo?). Perhaps, it is the nod to my beloved childhood tv drama, Fame. These stories are not meant to have you whistling and skipping into the sunset, for sure. However, you will have taken the ride of your life at the end of it and will be looking for more stories by this author. I will continue to wait.
On to the next book—what are you reading/wanting to read?
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