paper trail

Jess Row's "racial reassignment" novel comes to life

Jess Row

At the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb points out that Dylann Roof’s alleged murder of six black women and three black men during a Bible-study class in Charleston last week “was nothing less than an act of terror.” David Remnick calls the merciful responses by relatives of the victims a “superhuman form of endurance and pity.”

Jess Row’s novel Your Face in Mine, which came out last August, tells the story of a white man who has undergone “racial reassignment surgery” in order to become black. This character, Martin, “has diagnosed himself with what he calls Racial Identity Dysphoria Syndrome, and claims that he has always been black—that he was born in the wrong body.” Last week, with the Rachel Dolezal story in full force, Row found “a version of my novel was leaving the realm of the imaginary and becoming news.” Row compares the news and his novel in a new essay, noting the “nefarious” nature of Martin’s project, but also offering a complicated view of the fantasies around racial reassignment: “There are some people born into positions of power and privilege who are driven to, for lack of a better word, vacate themselves. This can originate in a deep political commitment, in radical feelings of empathy, in the trauma of feeling complicit in acts of violence, in what the critic Anne Cheng calls 'racial melancholia,' or even, perhaps, simply in a feeling that they were born in the wrong body. This impulse-to-vacate is problematic, to say the least, and dangerous at worst. But it exists. I’ve felt it myself. I believe it’s much more widespread than most of us imagine.”

The novelist James Salter, who was called a “writer’s writer’s writer,” died on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal wonders who will publish Pope Francis’s statement on global warming, which will soon “be up for grabs.” Apparently, Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House Press has contacted the US Conference of Bishops to express his interest. “We’d be excited and honored to publish it,” he said. “This kind of activist publishing is exactly what Melville House is all about.”

Vanessa Grigoriadis has been hired as a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine.

Geoff Dyer remembers Ornette Coleman.