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
Powerful and moving
An impressive success
[Thomas] knows how the odds are stacked in America. He knows the unlikelihood of successful black fatherhood. He knows that things are set up to keep the Other poor and the poor in their place. More than anything else, he knows how little but alsofortunatelyhow much it can take to bring a man down.” Kaiama L. Glover,The New York Times Book Reviewin a front page review
[A] jazzy, sinewy debut
Thomass urgent, quicksilver prose makes even the darkest moments of this novel shine.” Cathleen Medwich,O, the Oprah Magazine
A ravishing blues for the souls unending loneliness.” Donna Seaman,Booklist(starred review)
The narrators hard-bitten realism and Thomass blues-dirge-y storytelling instincts keep the narrative thrumming.” Jonathan Durbin,People
Winner of the International Dublin/IMPAC Literary Award
Powerful and moving
An impressive success
[Thomas] knows how the odds are stacked in America. He knows the unlikelihood of successful black fatherhood. He knows that things are set up to keep the Other poor and the poor in their place. More than anything else, he knows how little but alsofortunatelyhow much it can take to bring a man down.” Kaiama L. Glover, The New York Times Book Review in a front page review
[A] jazzy, sinewy debut
Thomass urgent, quicksilver prose makes even the darkest moments of this novel shine.” Cathleen Medwich, O, the Oprah Magazine
A ravishing blues for the souls unending loneliness.” Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
The narrators hard-bitten realism and Thomass blues-dirge-y storytelling instincts keep the narrative thrumming.” Jonathan Durbin, People
. The book is filled with some virtuoso passages that expose the subtle degrees of racism in the narrator's world.” Kirkus Reviews
What a novel, and what a writer. Michael Thomas is brilliant, and Man Gone Down is riveting. Every page vibrates with love and anger and hope.” Elizabeth Gaffney, author of Metropolis
Thomass knack for bonding the reader with a number of New York characters is admirable, and the narrators thoughts about his marriage, work and racial tension are as graceful as they are blunt
Thomass subtle prose casts a new light on urban life in Brooklyneven if you already live there.” Cherie Dennis, Time Out New York
Like the characters of Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, whom [Thomas] references throughout the novel with recognizable phrases, themes and quotes, [the] unnamed narrator is a black man concerned with identity in a decidedly white America
. Thomas imbues the story with an intense pace and urgency as he explores masculinity, humanity and where the narrator a self-proclaimed social experiment fits in
. Thomas, a fine writer, can produce beautiful prose
. His descriptions of the make-do jobs held by the protagonists mother while he was growing up and of a friends beatings at the hands of his father are vivid, graphic and poignant enough to leave a knot in the readers stomach
. In the end, the novel itself is rather like its main character: a brilliant and frustrating social experiment that is still quite worthy of our attention.” Tina McElroy Ansa, Washington Post
A real uncertainty haunts Man Gone Down and its landscapes, sticking to their edges. It captures human flux.” Tess Taylor, The San Francisco Chronicle
Michael Thomas Man Gone Down moves along nicely. His unnamed narrator is broke, estranged from his wife and children and temporarily living in a friends childs room, while desperately trying to figure out his life. This debut has racism at its core, but theres much more to it than that.” Martin Zimmerman, San Diego Union Tribune
In the great, dark churn of race and wealth, of poverty and prejudices, of judgments and forgivenesses that is the city, the hero of Man Gone Down charts a four-day, Homeric trek through what makes America and New York a social and racial nightmare as well as a dream that incredibly can still come true. In this fast-paced, idea-rich novel, Michael Thomas grabs you by the mental collar with the rare voice that is simultaneously classic and modern, with a style that compels the reader to cheer this unwavering husband and father onward, Ishmael-like, into the light, into the open waters of the next day. It would be a mistake to live in a city anywhere in America and not wade into Thomas' rich and rewarding depths.” Robert Sullivan, author of Rats and Cross Country: 15 Years and 90, 000 Miles on the Road . . .
A big, brave, heart-wrenching first novel, Michael Thomas tackles head-on the subjects of race, work and family. A tremendous debut.” Alice Greenway, author of White Ghost Girls
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 hes been gifted with a dynamic voice as well as with a story worthy of our attention.” David Haynes, Author of The Full Matilda
Michael Thomas is a thoughtful, intelligent, ambitious writer and Man Gone Down is an impressive first effort. Literatureand the worldwould be well served by more like him.” Martha Southgate, author of Third Girl from the Left
The narrator of this remarkable novel can name each star in the constellation of circumstances that describe the shape of his life as if observing them from a great distance, yet with a surprisingly intimate and passionate accuracy. Its unique achievement, that is, its particular beauty, is in how it engages us, right from the start, with the unannounced arrival of revelations, with humor, and with the growing realization that the life he speaks of has much in common with our own.” Chuck Wachtel, author of The Gates
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.