Winner of the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Synopses & Reviews
Beautifully written, insightful, and devastating first novel, Man Gone Down
is about a young black father of three in a biracial marriage trying to claim a piece of the American Dream he has bargained on since youth.
On the eve of the unnamed narrator's thirty-fifth birthday, he finds himself broke, estranged from his white Boston Brahmin wife and three children, and living in the bedroom of a friend's six-year-old child. He has four days to come up with the money to keep his family afloat, four days to try to make some sense of his life. He's been getting by working construction jobs though he's known on the streets as "the professor," as he was expected to make something out of his life. Alternating between his past as a child in inner-city Boston, he was bussed to the suburbs as part of the doomed attempts at integration in the 1970s and the preset in New York City where he is trying mightily to keep his children in private schools, we learn of his mother's abuses, his father's abandonment, raging alcoholism, and the best and worst intentions of a supposedly integrated America.
This is an extraordinary debut. It is a story of the American Dream gone awry, about what it's like to feel preprogrammed to fail in life and the urge to escape that sentence. Michael Thomas's writing recalls some of the great American masters, including Ralph Ellison, but his debut is wholly and distinctly an original. Man Gone Down is a dazzling addition to the literature of and about America today.
"Born poor, black and brilliant in a Boston ghetto, the unnamed man of the title is, at 35, crashing at a friend's place in New York , trying to scrape up enough money to keep his family afloat. As he reluctantly returns to the construction jobs that he thought he'd left behind and works to collect on old debts (and defer his own), he narrates his Boston bildung and traces his early years and the history of his relationship with his white Boston Brahmin wife, Claire. His childhood was marked by parental neglect and early experiments with heavy alcohol consumption. A natural writer, he was taken under the wing of a prominent black intellectual during his college years, but didn't follow through as his relationship with Claire and then the demands of married life intensified. Now, as he struggles to support a life he isn't sure he believes in, he is tempted to return to drink, give up on his marriage and abandon his children, although Claire has demonstrated her unwavering support. For all of the introspection and occasional indulgence in self-pity, the narrator retains a note of hard-won optimism, and Thomas resolutely steers him clear of sentimentality." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The scope of Thomas's project is prodigious....He has an exceptional eye for detail, and the poetry of his descriptive digressions...provides some respite from the knowledge that the city he loves can truly crush a man's spirit." New York Times
"[A] fine, richly textured work." Boston Globe
"Thomas has written a rhapsodic and piercing post-9/11 lament over aggression, greed, and racism, and a ravishing blues for the soul's unending loneliness." Booklist
"Michael Thomas is a thoughtful, intelligent, ambitious writer and Man Gone Down is an impressive first effort. Literature and the world would be well served by more like him." Martha Southgate
"Once in a great while a voice comes along that staggers us with its vitality, strength, and timeliness. Michael Thomas is one of those writers, and he's been gifted with a dynamic voice as well as with a story worthy of our attention." David Haynes
On the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday, the unnamed black narrator of Man Gone Down
finds himself broke, estranged from his white wife and three children, and living in the bedroom of a friends six-year-old child. He has four days to come up with the money to keep the kids in school and make a down payment on an apartment for them in which to live. As we slip between his childhood in inner city Boston and present-day New York City, we learn of a life marked by abuse, abandonment, raging alcoholism, and the best and worst intentions of a supposedly integrated America. This is a story of the American Dream gone awry, about what its like to feel preprogrammed to fail in life and the urge to escape that sentence.
About the Author
Michael Thomas was born and raised in Boston. He received his B.A. from Hunter College and his M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College. He teaches at Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.