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Your Face in Mine: A Novel Hardcover – August 14, 2014
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“Jess Row has written a fearless, ambitious, unforgettable novel that reads like a postcard from the near-future to our present moment: what if the commodification of identity spawned a new kind of lie? A wave of racial metamorphoses—a surgically-enabled denial of history? Row's premise is ingenious, but his execution is even better. He's created a thriller with a human core, powered by guilt, rage, self-loathing, traitorous longing, the claustrophobia of a single life, and the perilous fantasy of escape, rebirth. Row is unafraid to ask the hardest questions about what his hungry, homesick, vastly malleable characters are, at every level, and what binds them to one another.”
—Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia
"Anchored by a Swiftian fantasy of racial reassignment surgery, which takes its questing hero from the housing projects of Baltimore to the back streets of Bangkok, Jess Row's Your Face in Mine is one of the most slyly penetrating novels on race and identity politics I've ever had the pleasure of reading."
“A moving, compelling examination of love, loss, and humanity. In our time, when race is the most charged, complex (and perhaps most important) subject available for an American writer to take on, it is incredibly rare to encounter a book written by a white man that engages thoroughly, thoughtfully, and thrillingly with that very subject. This is a necessary book.”
—Martha Southgate, author of The Taste of Salt and Third Girl from the Left
"A white writer tackling race and class this honestly, this fearlessly? Talk about a rarity. So it's a relief that Jess Row is also one of the smartest, most observant contemporary writers around. This novel reads like Studs Terkel and Philip K. Dick decided to collaborate. It’s beautiful and painful, often at the same time."
—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
"This book is adult in its weight and complexity, and formidable in its thoughtfulness... [Row] doesn’t shy away from the hard intellectual and moral questions his story raises, or from grainy philosophical dialogue, but he submerges these things in a narrative that burns with a steady flame. You turn the pages without being aware you are turning them.
—The New York Times
“Jess Row sees the future in Your Face in Mine—a provocative and exhilaratingly bold examination of race in America, where a white Jewish guy who feels black can undergo racial reassignment surgery.”
—Elissa Schappell in Vanity Fair
“Furiously smart…takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Row has outdone himself in a first novel that offers great quantities of food for thought and discussion.”
–Booklist (starred review)
“Imaginative...This will appeal especially to those who love literary fiction with a thriller’s edge.”
–Library Journal (starred review)
"The premise is headline-catching, but the subtlety and grace with which Row tells the story is even more remarkable….We book reviewers are fond of calling books ‘brave,’ but Your Face in Mine is genuinely courageous.”
“Race is a charged subject few white male writers would dare take on, and yet Row does so with a captivating premise, brilliantly executed. Your Face in Mine is, above all, brave and thought-provoking.”
“They say that people change, but in the case of Kelly’s close high school friend whom he hasn’t seen in nearly two decades, it’s the type of change nobody would have seen coming. Row’s tale is one that people will be discussing, and it demonstrates why he is one of the most innovative storytellers out there.”
"An imaginative and thought-provoking first novel.”
“A thought-provoking exploration of identity and the ways it is both formed by the self and projected into the world.”
About the Author
Jess Row is the author of the story collections The Train to Lo Wu and Nobody Ever Gets Lost. Named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007, he has won two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O. Henry Prize, and has appeared in The Best American Short Stories three times. He lives in New York and teaches at the College of New Jersey.
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To put it another way: there is not much of a plot to YOUR FACE IN MINE. It's about a man who is writing a book about a friend who has undergone race reassignment surgery, transforming himself from a white man into a black man. I won't go any deeper because there wasn't any point where I felt particularly engaged by the characters or their desires. Indeed, despite Row's efforts to create drama, the stakes feel surprisingly low throughout the novel. I didn't particularly care about the characters.
But I was deeply engaged by Row's musings on race and I've thought hard about the novel's over-arching question of whether we can be born with the wrong racial assignment, in the way we can be born with the wrong gender assignment. That is a fascinating question and the exploration of it can take one to some new understandings, or at least some new intellectual terrains. For this excellent exploration such an important topic--and for the fine, sentence-by-sentence writing--I'm giving this four stars. Novels need not have gripping plots to grab you.
That is part of a letter written to a Dr. Silpasuvan in Bangkok from a Jorge Lopez, M.D. regarding one of the two protagonists in this unique novel.
And I can relate because there are times I’ve said this about myself: I think I’m a black woman trapped in a gay man’s (sort of a man!) body.
Of course when I say that I’m joking (sort of).
And so as not to completely confuse the reader, know this: it’s not a Michael Jackson-type of situation. Oh, yes, and Jewish-born Lipkin becomes Wilkenson.
I am a person who is very critical of first-person narratives, using as my “gold standard” that perfect example of first person (retrospective in this case): Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The novel consists of multiple stories and told in multiple narrative formats: there’s Martin Lipkin’s (Wilkenson’s) coming out, Martin’s taped account that he gives to Kelly for background, and then Kelly’s own story about his marriage to a Chinese woman and what happened to her and their young daughter as well as the back story—the one that has the two, Martin and Kelly, linked from early ages—of their band when they were teenagers in Baltimore.
Now that we have become aware that racism continues to haunt white American (or at least it should haunt all of us who are white), this is a novel for our time.
Kelly has a very strong narrative voice. A very believable one. Jess Row is a brilliant writer and establishes early on how Kelly has acquired his writing skills.
I think it is one of the best novels—maybe in places a bit over-written—I’ve read in the past two or three years (and I read at least one novel a week).
it with the help of scientists, plastic surgeons and genetics.Who knows---maybe a possibility.