Michael Thomas (2007, 2009) Man Gone Down

Miscegenation n 19th century from Latin miscere ‘to mix’ + genus ‘race’ + ation

Man Gone Down is a terrific book. Whether the subject is race, or class, and the gentrification of New York, the opposite of white flight, and the squeezing out of the poor and disenfranchised, well, that’s not a book, but a documentary. Here we have a black writer, unwilling to compromise. We have the ticking clock, the unknown narrator (whose name is Ishmael) needs to find $8400 for  three months tuition fees and a place for them to live in New York where rents have went crazy money. Ishmael steals quarters from his friend Marco to stay afloat. He’s been living there for three weeks and he’s promised Claire his wife—his white wife—on the twelfth anniversary of their marriage that he’ll sort it before his thirty-fifth anniversary in four days, while knowing he won’t and can’t.  Like Holden Caulfield he knows that everyone is a phony, including him. He’s ripped up his future, PhD on Eliot, Modernism and Metaphysics,  symbolically he moves away from the chance of tenure and gambles on success at writing.

But quotes from T.S. Eliot,  Little Gidding, preface each section of the book, beginning, middle and end. The Loser, ‘If you come at night like a broken king’.

Ishmael looks backwards to broken life as a kid in Boston, where he was raped, yet dragged himself up, but became an alcoholic like his own mother, perhaps mirror his own father, who screwed around and left them penniless—the section where Ishmael buys twelve bottles of Budweiser, breaks one open and sniffs it, had me saying, just fuck off, that’s no alcoholic I know—but he also looks to his kids’ future based on what he knows.   

‘I sometimes see the arcs of each boy’s life based solely on the reaction from strangers, friends and family—the reaction to their colours.

‘X could pass’ [for white]

X is Ishmael’s precocious three-year old son.

‘C could not.’

His girl is too young to tell if her skin colour will give the game away. Set her life up for a fall. Even Claire his ever optimistic wife knows they wouldn’t have a chance of snatching the American dream in Boston of ‘the boundless white’.  New York after 9/11 is not a melting pot, but it’s the only game in town.

Pincus, a father figure and mentor to the narrator, had walked beside Martin Luther King and knew Bobby Kennedy, tells it like it is, in a way that resonates more today than yesteryear.  

'When I signed on to do what I was going to do, it was during the dark time. There existed in this country’s dominant class a horrifying mix of paranoia, cynicism, ignorance, amnesia, sadism, and base desire, and it was wrapped in a synthetic cloak of privilege and entitlement.'

It’s difficult to tell if he’s talking about now or then. Such sentiments since the rise of Trumpism, the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, seem more now than ever.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the end of the book, but it is a beautiful book, so I’ll hold my breath. Section IV. Everbody Is a Star, T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages:

‘And right action is freedom

From past and future also.

For most of us, this is the aim

Never here to be realized;

Who are only undefeated

Because we have gone on trying…’