Race is all around us,man, choking us. The black and white worlds of Johnny Smith and Bill Reilly have been turned upside down by a serial killer determined to incite a race war by slaying black men. Amidst the chaos, Bill reaches out to help Johnny find his missing wife and daughter. Can they bridge the racial divide?
Rendered Invisible takes you inside 1980s New York and the true-life .22 Caliber serial killings as years later Johnny unfolds his untold witness of personal loss,racial turmoil and communities in crisis. The personal search for common ground in spite of race, gender and class continue in the five,critically recognized short stories that follow. Few writers translate our current daily challenge with cultural diversity as Dobson so easily offers in Rendered Invisible.
In many ways, Frank Dobson's Rendered Invisible: Stories of Blacks and Whites, Love and Death takes over where Ralph Ellison's 1952 classic Invisible Man left off. To my mind one of the finest novels of the 20th century, Invisible Man is both an iconic literary work and a valuable teaching tool in courses across the humanities curriculum. I believe this will be true also of Rendered Invisible: Stories of Blacks and Whites, Love and Death if it gets the exposure that it deserves.
Dobson is first and foremost a brilliant writer, winner of the Zora Neale Huston/Bessie Head Fiction Writer's Award, who has published not only fiction, but essays and poetry as well as plays, two of which have been produced.
"Rendered Invisible," a novella, the major work in this collection takes us inside the black community terrorized by a serial killer 30 years ago. While most of us are familiar with Charles Manson (nine murders) and the Son of Sam (six murders), few outside the community are aware of the monstrous white supremacist Joseph Christopher who wanted t6 ignite a race war and murdered 13 black men in the early 1980s, cutting out the hearts of two of his victims and stabbing three others who survived the attacks.
Dobson's account of the events is almost impossible to put down as he makes the characters visible and exposes the butterfly effect as their fear contorts their lives. Using a collage technique, he takes us from multiple perspectives from barber shop conversations, to news reports, to Johnny's story in which the life of one of the characters we met in the barber shop comes as close to spiraling out of control as does that of original Invisible Man.
Now being developed as a play, "Black Messiahs Die," the first of the five bonus stories, is a gut wrenching tale of the life and death of a talented young basketball player murdered by the police in a case of racial profiling and illustrates the ambiguity inherent in sports and the hopes of young black men. In "Homeless M.F." the protagonist comes close to a self destroying vengeance and transcends it, leaving himself still a "homeless M.F.," but a morally victorious one. The other three stories are equally compelling.
Those teaching courses in race relations, the short story, black history, and black literature will find Rendered Invisible an invaluable text. Those simply looking for a good read will find it equally compelling. It will undoubtedly become a text in my next Short Story class.
Felicia Campbell, University of Nevada, Las Vegas