by Jess Row
Kelly Thorndike hears his named called out by an African-American man as he is shopping one day in Baltimore. Although, the man seems familiar, he is sure he doesn’t know him. But he does. Martin was a friend of his from high school, but back then he was a gangly, Jewish kid who played in their punk band. After having “racial reassignment surgery”, Martin is now living as an African-American businessman and family man. He is ready to share his experience with the world and enlists Kelly to help him make that happen, which turns out to not be as cut and dry as he thought.
As the men get reaquainted with each other and you learn each of their backstories, including the death of Kelly’s wife and daughter, the book moves along nicely. The last part of the book the story moves to Thailand, where the organization that makes these reassignments happen is headquartered, and it lost some of my interest as it sometimes veered off into some medical jargon and even Kelly’s grad school dissertation. They wound up being germane to the story, but came off a little snoozy. What I did find fascinating was the underlining social commentary about the history of plastic surgery and how the bulk of procedures done, especially on the face, are to emulate a European standard of beauty.
Row’s writing may come off as difficult to read for some because he isn’t particularly flowery and he doesn’t use quotation mark for dialogue. The premise of being able to change your racial identity and the ramifications was enough to keep me reading.