Those of you who always wanted to read this book can now get it at Amazon, on Kindle.
A new paperback version is also in the making.
I felt compelled to reissue Nate because the issues it deals with have not only NOT gone away, but have become even more pertinent today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. I put the finishing touches on this book in 1998, but the overall text was done by December of 1996. Nothing, as far as I can see, has really changed at all in the past two decades, unless it’s for the worse.
Everything that YouTube bloggers have been ranting and raving about these past few years–the gender wars between black men and women, so-called “alpha male” and “beta male” syndromes (particularly the latter, and especially concerning black men), coonery, thuggery, gang violence, the whole so-called “ratchet” mentality, etc. It also deals with the buffoonery that infests HBCUs, and I guess that my ridicule of black university life (represented in the novel by the now-notorious Coon State University) got underneath the skin of more than a few black readers of Nate–those who bothered to read it, that is.
Someone on AALBC.com who reviewed the book (who called himself “Thumper”) panned the book, calling it “used dishwater going down the drain.” Other black critics decried the lack of plot and took me to task for not creating “likable” characters. Ishmael Reed, Darryl Dickson-Carr, Darius James and many other writers and readers have thought otherwise.
Of course, there is no “plot” in the traditional, conventional sense. Nate is a picaresque novel. Most Black authors (American, that is) don’t write in a picaresque style, though it is the oldest and most traditional of novel styles. The style of writing was developed in Spain, with obvious roots in Arabic/Moorish literature. Don Quixote as well as Paul Beatty’s The Sellout are picaresque. Darius James’s Negrophobia is also a picaresque novel. It is a style of narrative in which the protagonist–usually a rascal like Don Quixote or a naif like Candide–stumbles from one ridiculous episode to the next; the story is generally told in a humorous, grotesque or satirical fashion.
Nate is all of these.
Originally published in 2006, this powerful, disturbing, award-winning novel chronicles the free-wheeling mishaps of one Nathan James Morris, a talented, ambitious middle-class black kid from Prince Georges County, Maryland. At 19, he has been expelled from Freedom College for alleged misconduct. He has few friends, aside from the parasitic Guy Sellers; and save for his scholarship’s chump change, even fewer dollars. Hurt, angry, and in desperate need of cash, he joins the Marines. “The road to manhood is paved with tanks and convoys!” he loudly boasts.
But he soon discovers that his own “road” has been paved with far more unpleasant things: whimsical officers, endless bomb attacks, disease, an unbelievable desolation. After the military, his “road” gets rockier….an unhappy reuniting with family, friends and fiancee….a kidnaping in Turkey ….violent confrontations with neo-Nazis and racist North Africans….his studies and miseries at C.S.U., America’s most prestigious black university, and his final days in a DC slum, as witness to (and participant in) the wild destruction of his older brother’s marriage, with a little help from the one “friend” who never seems to leave him be: Guy Sellers.
“Lewis is an original talent whose English cuts through a lot of contemporary BS like a butcher knife….It’s important that a powerful novel such as this surfaces at a time when the black lit. scene is being smothered by a lot of dumb frivolous chick-lit and down low scribbling. Anybody want to know where the kick-behind black male literary tradition of Himes, Wright, John A. Williams went? It’s alive and well in Berlin.”
–Ishmael Reed, author of JUICE! and Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: Return of the Nigger Breakers
“A brutally funny novel satirizing diverse subjects from American military misadventures, African-American cultural politics, to the chaos of contemporary American life. Like the protagonists of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the eponymous hero, Nathan James Morris, is a classic picaro, a naive everyman and would-be artist whose foolhardiness shows us more about American life and the human condition than would seem possible in one novel.”
–Darryl Dickson-Carr, Associate professor of English at Southern Methodist University and author of The Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction