On “Give My Love to the Savages” by Chris Stuck


IN A RECENT online reading Hosted by Book Soup, moderator Chris L. Terry pointed out that despite the mix of author Chris Stuck (his Instagram handle is @super_biracial_man), the characters he writes about tend to be black. Stuck admitted this to be true, but was quickly clarified by adding, “I write about Americans.”

Stuck doesn’t completely avoid the race, of course. The collection’s first story, “Every Time They Call You Nigger,” deals with bigotry and ignorance head-on, the title leaving no mystery on the subject of the play. And the third story, “Lake No Negro,” is a clear predecessor to Jordan Peele’s 2017 film. Get out (minus the sci-fi elements). In both stories, however, Stuck’s commitment to investigating the depths of his characters keeps the narratives from becoming entirely color-focused.

This is not a book that aims to document all of the ways a dark-skinned person somehow predisposes to social violence. What Stuck does with his stories is create worlds where African Americans of different skin colors serve as protagonists in narratives that have little or nothing to do with their racialization or otherness, and more to see. with their existence as complex, nuanced, three-dimensional people.

“And then we were the Norrises” follows a family who had to enroll in the witness protection program due to the Patriarch’s shady business connections on the East Coast. Because the story’s teenage protagonist, Chuck, is unable to keep the family secret, the Norrises have moved and been renamed multiple times. New to Phoenix, Arizona, Chuck is an instant underdog, and as such, he befriends another loner, a long-haired white boy named Sterling Silver who wears the same Judas Priest shirt every day. The boys become friends, ride bikes together, and read porn magazines in hollowed out bushes. Chuck comes to terms with his sexuality, and while Sterling marvels at women in magazines, Chuck is no less curious about men.

Although Chuck’s family is moving to increasingly white places, race is not at the center of the stories, but rather class. We learn that Chuck’s real name is Bernard Black, XV, and that he descends from a line of wealthy African-Americans, a line dating back to the 1700s, to a freed slave who amassed wealth because he was a “Whiz with numbers.” The fortune of the Black family has only increased over the centuries. When Sterling first invites Chuck to his home, a wacky trailer on the outskirts of town, he hesitates to bring his new friend inside. When Chuck asks what’s wrong, Sterling kicks a rock and says, “It’s just that you’re rich.” Stuck implies that Sterling has witnessed behaviors echoing what the narrator has already told the reader – that Chuck’s behavior is more a product of his class than his color – and the power of this transition story. adulthood is largely attributable to this underlying tension.

Humor is Stuck’s most powerful weapon. “Cowboys” follows two working-class museum guards, one black and one white, who get drunk, baked, and spend most of their evenings mourning failed romances. The tone of the play is reminiscent of a comedy by the Coen brothers (think Elevate Arizona Where O brother, where are you?). Stuck makes sure that the emotional dimensions of his characters are sincere, but the dry and direct manner in which he presents the comedic passages positions him as a satirist at heart. He goes from drama to comedy through the absurd and back again with ease.

In “Chuck and Tina Go on Vacation,” a married couple decides to take a vacation to keep up with their social media-savvy friends. Their unspoken goal, however, is to reinvigorate their 15-year relationship. But instead of rekindling their romance and capturing Instagram-worthy moments, Chuck falls ill and Tina wanders the streets alone, high, wondering if she even wants to be a couple. It’s a funny, loving, well-watched story about people grappling with universal questions about long-term relationships, commitment, and disappointment.

The collection’s eponymous story, “Give My Love to the Savages,” takes place during the social uprising that followed Rodney King’s verdict in 1992. This is another example of Stuck finding a daring and appealing situation. and using it as a backdrop for something personal. The story tells the story of the complicated love that exists between a long-absent father and his college-aged son, a boy who was raised without strong male role models, fell into the wrong crowd and nearly ended up in jail. The “bad” kids are white guys from prep school, and the protagonist, whose father is white while his mother is black, manages to avoid jail because his father puts him in touch with an unscrupulous lawyer. “Give My Love to the Savages” is a story about the possibility of forgiveness, from one’s parents and from oneself. But it’s also a tale of how being of mixed ethnicity can be a source of both social freedom and personal isolation.

“This Isn’t Music” struck me the most. The story, set in a small town in rural Missouri, follows two best friends – a man named Nick and a woman named Billie. Their relationship started out as platonic as a teenager, evolved into a romantic entanglement, and then morphed into a long-distance friendship when Nick moved to college. The years have passed. Each of them married other people. Then, when Nick became disillusioned with his life as a writer and teacher, he returned home and found a job in the quarry that employs most of the city. Reunited, the two friends are now engaged in an affair that neither fascinates them. Nick and Billie are the only black people in Rock City, and they mostly cater to each other, in a playful way, as Black Boy and Black Girl. No one else in town ever refers to their color, but they don’t really get the chance.

Stuck keeps the narrative tightly focused on these two characters, with a few brief flashbacks featuring Nick’s housewife and his dad with dementia. “This Isn’t Music” has the quality of a play. Most of the story takes place in a bar, with the couple sitting opposite each other in a booth. It’s written in the second person, so even though the protagonist is called Nick, he’s mostly “You” and often “Black Boy” when addressed by Billie. There’s something about the way Stuck portrays Nick and Billie that suggests that what brought them together – being the only black people in an otherwise white town – isn’t enough to keep their relationship going anymore. He’s a tomboy; he is an intellectual. She is loud, brash and impulsive; he is anxious, insecure and undecided. She’s a polished former tug-of-war champion working on her 12th beer, and he’s drunk her second. Their conversation is almost exclusively racialized, not because something racist happened to them, but because they each cheat on white people, and their mutual infidelity connects them as much as their skin color. At the end of this story, Nick seems ready to give up the relationship. It’s all over. But then there’s a moment, an inspired rhythm where Stuck suggests that their connection, their friendship, is more than color and more than sex. It’s about having someone to experience life with – that having someone who’s willing to leap into the unknown by your side is worth hanging on, at least for a while. more night.

Two weeks after his conversation with Terry for Book Soup, Stuck participated in another online Event hosted by Chevalier Livres. Host Dana Johnson asked Stuck about the variety of decors featured in his collection. Recognizing his decision to tell the stories in cities across the United States, Stuck reiterated his goal of being a American storyteller. Citing Edward P. Jones’ involvement in Washington, DC, Stuck noted that it is common for writers to center the city where they grew up. “I wanted my city to be America,” he said.

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A 2020 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow, Damien Belliveau is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and a United States Army Veteran. He is currently completing a collection of short stories inspired by his time as an army medic in the mid-1990s..


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