Ride Around Shining
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Longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction
A provocative debut novel about a young white chauffeur and his wealthy black employer, an NBA player—a twenty-first century inversion of what we’ve come to expect stories of race and class to look like, and a discomfiting portrait of envy and obsession.
Ride Around Shining concerns the idle preoccupations, and later machinations, of a transplanted Portlander named Jess—a nobody from nowhere with a Master’s degree and a gig delivering takeout. He parlays the latter, along with a few lies, into a job as a chauffeur for an up-and-coming Trail Blazer named Calyph West and his young wife, Antonia.
Calyph is black and Antonia is white and Jess becomes fascinated, innocuously at first, by all they are that he is not. In striving to make himself indispensable to them, he causes Calyph to have a season-ending knee injury, then brings about the couple’s estrangement, before positioning himself at last as their perverse savior.
In the tradition of The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Great Gatsby, and Harold Pinter’s The Servant—not to mention a certain Shakespeare play about a creepy white dude obsessed with a black dude—Ride Around Shining tries to say the unsayable about white fixation on black culture, particularly black athletic culture, something so common in everyday life it has gone all but unaddressed.
unexpected, unexampled, strange and beautiful.
The only me-specific caveat to this review would have to be that I live in Portland Oregon, and therefore was especially taken with the author's evocation of this city, perhaps more so than a non-native would be. (And I mean not just the neighborhoods and locations, but also the traffic patterns and weather patterns and even the way the author recalls a certain sleaze and grime to pre-hipster PDX.) But I've read plenty of books set in cities I have never been to, and I have enjoyed their careful, insiderish description of place; you don't need to be from Portland to get this book. And you should get it and read it. I think so anyway. Thus the five stars.
The central conceit (I think/hope I'm using the word correctly) is that there's this guy, Jess, the white chauffeur to a (fictional) black rookie Portland Trailblazer named Calyph West. Though recently and expensively acquired by the team, Calyph injures his knee, and so must rattle around up there in his Dunthorpe mansion all season, hobnobbing with ballers and generally keeping his life together, a life which is at once princely (because he is blessed with this strangely valuable prowess on the court) and yet also stressful (because his peak-athlete status – and the financial ease that flows therefrom – is actually very tenuous).
Narrator Jess is definitely malevolent, but he's not evil or dastardly or anything like that. He's motivated by strange and complex drives that have to do with race and class and his own insecurity. What Jess does is meddle in his employer's career and marriage and home.
The story is unexpected, unexampled and totally worth reading and keeping on your shelf.
Ride Around Shining is the perfect juxtaposition of sports and literature. While RAS is not specifically about sports, it is about the culture surrounding sports, the unspoken dichotomy of blacks and whites unified for the common goal of sport, and remaining true to a perceived image of self. I have never read another book, story, article, or essay that treated sports with the reverence it deserves, and written in a manner which could be considered art. That crossover is the brilliance of this book. Whether you are a devoted sports fan, or a reader who appreciates the art of story-telling, you will love RAS.