A Visitation of Spirits : A Novel

by Randall Kenan

ISBN: 0375703977

This is Kenan’s first novel, and the promise fully realized in his later work (Let The Dead Bury Their Dead) is evident. Many of the elements in place in the later stories are already present here: the small town of Tims Creek, the pride and pressure brought to bear by generations of family, the struggle with morality and religion, questions about what it means to be black, and what it means to gay and black.

The story here is Horace Cross’s. Horace is a teenager looking for a way out — not of Tims Creek, but a way out of who he is: young, black, gay, and therefore damned to hell. He has been raised in a devout and fundamentalist Christian tradition (the preacher he turns to is native son Jimmy) and his inability to reconcile who he is with who he is supposed to be lead to a psychotic break.

The psychosis, while driving a good deal of the narrative, was not in my opinion entirely believable. Not that I couldn’t buy it (it was a reasonable enough premise, relevant enough details were given) but that I wasn’t sure I was supposed to buy it. Kenan is a writer who can talk about ghosts and spirits and all manner of unlikely things, so I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to take Horace’s seemingly psychotic break until far later in the story than I was comfortable with.

Visitation is an interesting read, if at times a bit hard to follow, and recommended.

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