When I was asked to read Dwayne Alexander Smith’s debut novel Forty Acres, I was at first taken aback. I had never heard of Smith or the book itself and it seemed strange to be placed on the pedestal of which #SaveTheCulture seems to require.
How could a book I had never even heard of be worth that hashtag?
Well, Steve Taylor-Bryant did not disappoint. The book arrived quickly and as I cracked the opening pages I understood just what Steve saw in the work. While not written with what some would consider incredible literary prowess, Smith has a definitive style. His writing is gripping and cinematic and doesn’t get bogged down in long lines of flowery description. Instead, his characters feel like actors playing their roles splendidly.
The novel follows a young African-American lawyer named Martin Grey who has just won the biggest case of his upstart career, pulling an underdog victory from the opposing lawyer, another black man who Smith has written with strong similarities to Johnny Cochrane (One of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers). By doing so he has catapulted himself into a new social sphere, surrounded by much more powerful men and their society.
When invited to a retreat by his new friends, Martin’s wife becomes uneasy, researching the group and discovering something shady in their past. Grey ignores her warnings and joins the trip only to be confronted with something so incredibly shocking that I am surprised it ever made the leap onto the page.
SPOILER ALERT – If you like the sound of the book so far, stop reading or at least be warned of major plot spoilers ahead.
Okay, you stayed. Here we go.
Smith ventures to his destination unaware of what will befall him but when he arrives, he discovers a prison camp known as Forty Acres where whites are held against their will and forced to work as reparations for the injustices of slavery and the ill-treatment of African Americans as a whole.
It blew my mind. Seriously. It may be one of the single most shocking and unexpected twists in literature. It’s like an M. Night Shyamalan movie…before his twists became stupid and easily predictable.
I don’t want to ruin the fun of reading something like this but if that statement above doesn’t inspire you to pick up the book, then nothing will. It is well-written, cinematic, sexy, action-packed.
Also, it is somewhat topical as it deals with the racial plight which is still running rampant across the U.S. today. As a 32-year-old white male in America, I may not be the target audience and I may not have experienced racial bias, but it is still easily noticeable that, while we have made some serious headway into the racial problems of this country, there are still vast chasms to cross. Forty Acres operates as an eye-opening experience, much the same as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin did in the 19th century. It is shocking yet effective.
I do have some negative thoughts about the execution of the plot. While the premise was so interesting, the end rushes to a finish that tries for Dan Brown but ends up with something far less stellar. Included in this is a ridiculous sex scene that has really no place in the novel. I mean, I understand why it is there, but it really doesn’t do a lot for the plot.
I now see why Steve wanted this included in #SaveTheCulture. The book may not be a literary masterpiece but it IS moving and engaging and, while it lacks character development in a lot of ways, the plot holds together, creating easily one of the best first novels I have ever encountered.
As for the next #SaveTheCulture nomination, I have chosen a book near and dear to my heart. While the movie itself is a tour de force, you are doing a great disservice to yourself if you do not pick up the novel. It is tagged as a modern, violent, neo-western, but the book is far more moving and philosophical than that little blurb gives credit. Written by arguably the greatest American author of the last 50 years (and honestly I would also list him among the best in the world), this novel details the changing landscape of the world and the question of whether there is even a place for goodness or justice. Is it all chance and fate or is there a definitive purpose to everything?
I nominate Nate McKenzie to read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.