In fact, all of the shorter pieces contribute to and gain full velocity in that novella. Is this a collection, or a different way of dividing a novel? Does it matter? Not really, except that not finishing would be a shame. Scott’s Cross River has been compared to other authors’ imagined places, from Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Jesmyn Ward’s Bois Sauvage (and I would add Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, as well as Black Panther’s Wakanda), but it’s completely his own, forged of deep roots, racial conflict and humor so mordant you’ll do double takes.
You see, the fictitious Cross River was founded by the members of the only successful slave rebellion in history. Its Freedman’s University educates African American men and women whose home has fewer ties than most places in the United States to enslavement and segregation. But that isn’t enough to protect them from the wider world. Whenever things seem smooth, there are interactions with nearby mostly white Port Yooga to remind Cross Riverians of history. Scott does not fall into simple blame; his understanding of our country’s racial divide transcends his characters’ experience, but never intrudes on their truth.
These stories range from satire (“The Electric Joy of Service”) to fantasy (“Numbers”) to horror (“Rolling in My Six-Fo’ ”) and not one of them strikes a false note. There are angry notes. Even, perhaps, hostile ones. But none that are unwarranted. A few readers may be shocked by Scott’s use of cultural epithets, but those are far from unnecessary. We have so far to go and so little time to get there, Scott seems to say. Maybe spending a few hours in Cross River will help build a bridge. Or blow one up, if need be.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”
The World Doesn't Require You
By Rion Amilcar Scott
Liveright. 384 pp. $25.95