AS LIE IS TO GRIN by Simeon Marsalis

reviewed by Jackson Ellis | Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon MarsalisCatapult Books, 160 pages, paperback, $16.95

As Lie Is to Grin reads like a creative writing student’s work; in other words, there is a lot of promise in the author and flashes of brilliance, but overall the story lacks in coherence, character development, and plot.

Simply put, the narrator (David) is trying, as they say, to “find himself,” and he struggles to navigate a world where he doesn’t quite fit in. He is partly to blame for this due to his deceptions of others and (it seems to be implied) his own self-deceptions; partly, his struggle is framed in racial terms, as a black man in a white world. The setup is intriguing.

Unfortunately there isn’t anything particularly unique in his struggle, nor special or idiosyncratic in his worldview. The characters are not very likable, nor are they highly unlikable — forgettable, really. David’s journey lacks any real profundity. Essentially, there is nothing here to draw you in, and very little to hold your attention or keep you emotionally invested. Yes, there is the big lie David tells his girlfriend in the part of the story that takes place in 2009, but as a reader, you know how it will play out as soon as it happens.

Marsalis is a fine writer; I just don’t think this is a particularly good book. That said, I think he has potential to write something great and I plan to keep an eye out for his future work. Not to mention, thanks to this book, I plan to pick up a copy of Jean Toomer’s Cane.

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