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Shifting Through Neutral Paperback – May 3, 2005
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
In her strong debut, indie film director Davis (1996's Naked Acts) deconstructs the daddy's girl myth by viewing it from a fresh African-American perspective. Set in Detroit between 1967 and 1980, this lively coming-of-age tale rocks with the sounds of Stevie Wonder, whose own mother serves as one of the card-playing supporting characters. Rae Dodson has no regrets about sleeping on the back of her slowly dying father, JD, a General Motors assembly-line worker suffering from hypertension and granted disability at age 36, until she's forced, at age nine, to sleep in her own bedroom ("I formed myself out of the five o'clock shadow of his maleness"). The reader braces for the worst, but Davis opts for the high road as she explores the father and daughter's almost symbiotic relationship, contrasting it with the distant one Rae has with her troubled mother, Vy. Meanwhile, Vy waits for Cyril, her lover and the father of Rae's older sister Kimmie, to rescue her from a marriage marred by JD's infidelity. Heartbreak and sudden tragedy compel the appealing Rae to grow up on the fast track. Davis doesn't miss a beat in this moving study of dysfunctional families and the power of transcendent love. Apt driving manual excerpts head each section, while a wonderfully done twist ending strikes a final ironic note. Two thumbs up, and skip the speed bumps at your own risk.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In Detroit in the late '60s and '70s, Rae Dodson is growing up alongside her city: "We were watching it go from a resentful and surly child of white forces to a wild and excited youth of black power." In her comfortable, middle-class, black neighborhood, where Stevie Wonder's mother is a friend, Rae lives in a divided house. Her independently wealthy mother lives upstairs; her father, disabled by crippling hypertension and migraines, lives in the downstairs den, where Rae, intensely devoted to her father, also sleeps. When Rae is nine years old, her sister Kimmie arrives for the summer and sets in motion a shift in the house that forces Rae to choose between parents. Davis' impressive debut reads like memoir. Narrated in the first-person voice of an adult looking back, the nonlinear scenes shift between Rae's childhood and adolescence, leaving the collective impression of memories--disjointed and sometimes baffling in their significance but also vivid and heartbreaking. A riveting family drama filled with sharply drawn individuals who love and fail each other with stunning intensity. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
This novel doesn't just tell a story. In fact, it's short on plot and very character-driven. It exposes the soul of a middle-class black family in 1970's Detroit through the eyes of young Rae Dodson. Her father is disabled by crippling migraines and her emotionally-distant mother is popping Valium when her older half-sister, Kimmie, returns from New Orleans where she vanished years ago to live with her father, their mother's one true love. Kimmie's return stirs in Rae a desire to understand her splintered family, to understand the mixed blessings of coming into womanhood, and to find what freedom truly means to her. But, when Kimmie's father comes for them, Rae is forced to confront the price of freedom and define the kind of person she wants to become.
Davis' work is all the more impressive given how badly it could have failed. A novel without a strong plot runs the risk of being a phenomenal bore. Yet she combines a beautiful, haunting prose with fully developed characters who are engaging and have depth while making it all seem effortless. The characters are three-dimensional, coming to life off pages of evocative imagery and very little exposition. Davis doesn't describe Rae; she allows the reader to come to know Rae.
Subtlety is by far Davis' strongest gift as a novelist. She uses her central images of cars, driving, and the road for the full range of those metaphors without ever manipulating the reader emotionally or, indeed, ever even allowing us to see the mechanics of what she's doing. The impact of Rae's observations about her family, about her job at the GM Proving Ground, about her awkward and tumultuous early love affairs brush over the reader's senses like gossamer cobwebs on sensitive flesh.
For this reason alone, Davis deserves recognition for writing important literary fiction and important African-American fiction specifically. Rae's voice as the narrator is undeniably the voice of a Midwestern black girl describing the lives of a black family with a realism and poignancy rarely found in popular fiction. She masterfully focuses on race while utterly transcending it - never portraying black families in the way white readers expect or want to hear, yet never allowing her readers to think the Dodson family "just happens to be black". This is both a black novel and an American novel and to place one over the other would be a disgrace to Davis' work.
Living in Motor City and watching those she loves take to the open road gives Rae a passion for cars and the independence they represent for her. Her story is that of the capricious nature of fate that comes with freedom. Sometimes thrilling, often cruel, and always unpredictable, Shifting Through Neutral exposes part of what it really means to be human, to love and be loved by an imperfect family, and to step fully into life.
After discovering that this book was set in Detroit, I rushed out and bought it the same day it was released. I was excited about the book because it seemed unique. The story of a daddy's girl also appealed to me because I was never that and secretly longed to be. All of the characters in the book were memorable and interesting. I understood the mother with all of her faults, and I appreciated JD the father and his love for his child.
If you're looking for a lot of drama, you won't find it in this book, but there is a hint of mystery involving JD, Rae, and JD's stepdaughter Kimmie that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Also, the book was set in the 70's and the writer did an excellent job of placing the reader in that era. Similar to listening to an old song that triggers memories, this book did the same for me as I was a young child who grew up in Detroit in the 70's.
If you're looking for beautiful prose and a book with a realistic feel that will thrust you into the story, this is the book I would recommend reading.
SHIFTING THROUGH NEUTRAL is a very realistic depiction of families that have fallen apart, yet remain together. The complex interpersonal relationships between family members are explored, such as the father-daughter and husband-wife dynamic. The language used to portray the story adds to its realism. I liked the backdrop of cars and driving with sections of the book corresponding with Rae's life titled Idling, and Accelerating, which was fitting since the story is set in Detroit, the Motor City.
This melancholy story is long and drawn out at times and loses it's momentum at parts. The novel did not grab my full attention all the way through. It is a good quality story, yet a slow paced read. I enjoyed reading the story about this fictional Detroit family. If you want to be taken back in time, at a leisurely pace to a time forgotten, you will enjoy SHIFTING THROUGH NEUTRAL.
Reviewed by Aiesha Flowers
of The RAWSISTAZReviewers
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