In Creatures of Passage, 10-year-old Dash Kinwell is stuck, unsure how to proceed after witnessing the school’s merry janitor, Mercy, commit an act of molestation.
The novel’s setting of 1977 Anacostia, in the southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., is magical and liquid, and so is author Morowa Yejidé’s storytelling style. Sequences flow between past, present and future, between concrete and fantastical, in a stream of vignettes. States are “kingdoms,” the Suitland Parkway is “the imaginable forest,” cars drive themselves and giant vegetables grow at night. Subtle clues hint at how the plot fuses together, emerging amid enjoyable sketches of characters such as Find Out, a man who can locate anything in his junkyard (and beyond).
The adults around Dash wander “with burdens that [keep] them frozen even as they [move] from one place to the next.” His great-aunt Nephthys ferries passengers around in her 1967 Plymouth, a ghost thumping around in the trunk. Osiris, Nephthys’ deceased twin brother, journeys through death only to arrive back at the banks of the river where his body was recovered, and where he now visits with Dash. Dash’s reclusive mom, Amber, sees future catastrophes in her dreams, and they’re recorded in a section of the newspaper called “the Lottery.” Meanwhile, Mercy calculates his next attack.
So mesmerizing are Yejidé’s unhurried, lyrical chapters that it’s easy to forget the real conflicts, such as financial crises, racial tensions and substance abuse, looming in the background. This contemporary fairy tale’s grandeur and psychedelic wonderment undergird a serious warning, urging readers to make sense of the story’s message of family, justice, trauma and healing and to find a way toward a saner future.