Review: Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas 978-0-8021-7029-3   Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic 432 Pages; First Printing: January 2007

Ever wondered what happened to Ralph Ellison’s narrator from Invisible Man? Michael Thomas symbolically resurfaces him via a long-form elegy, drawing from a broad literary canon, primarily T. S. Eliot. Initially one wonders whether the unnamed narrator’s cynicism is warranted or does he simply have a bad attitude.  

The early presentation is clear: he and his friends are casualties of a war, a “social experiment” that has essentially left them suffering from one form or other of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). For the unnamed, his Sisyphean boulder was to be the “light” through the darkness of America’s heart. He tried, or at least he went along for the ride – busing for integration in Boston, briefly attended Harvard, near completing his graduate studies, and married a white woman with whom he has three children. Along with all he has accomplished, he is also weighed down by his parents, his upbringing amidst abuse and abandonment, and other traumas.  Man Gone Down opens as the unnamed is leaving his family in New England to return to New York. He has a task in front of him, to come up with over twelve thousand dollars so his children can attend private school and have a place to live. What follows is the classical literary walk through or toward hell, where he recounts his life, interacts with acquaintances and friends in his changing Brooklyn neighborhood, and finds work as a day laborer at construction sites. This job is a return to a time when he was building the predestined life of writer, academic, a renaissance man. He abandoned those dreams when he simply could not hold together the stitching of his fractured past. More than anything, Man Gone Down provides an opportunity to look deeply into the soul of a man succumbing to the weight of expectations heaped upon him.

Recommendation: HIGH

Reviewed by Guichard Cadet