July 2024

Devil Is Fine

By John Vercher
Review by
Wrestling with grief over the loss of his son and with the inheritance of a former plantation, the narrator of John Vercher’s Devil Is Fine embarks on a mystical, profound journey into an unraveling identity.
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Children who have lost their parents are orphans, wives who have lost their husbands are widows, and husbands who have lost their wives are widowers. But there is no word to account for the immense, devastating loss of a child. John Vercher begins Devil Is Fine from this nameless position, as the unnamed narrator, a struggling writer and professor, attends his son Malcolm’s funeral. In contrast to the lack of words for his grief, there are plenty of words (some more acceptable than others) for his racial identity: mixed, biracial, mulatto, etc. Inevitably, these two aspects of our narrator’s identity—the loss of his son and his biracial background—intersect as he finds out he has inherited a plot of land from his estranged grandfather on his white mother’s side of the family. This land, he soon finds out, is a former plantation. Wrestling with the racial history of the land and the meaning of inheriting it, our narrator embarks on a mystical, profound journey into an unraveling identity. 

In terms of form, theme and voice, Devil Is Fine is anything but stable. Following the narrator in the first person, the book leaps through time back to when Malcolm was alive and even to when the plantation was in the hands of the narrator’s ancestor, with interjections from spirits along the way. One of Vercher’s greatest technical accomplishments is how surprising and urgent this shifting feels as it gives the reader a fuller, richer picture of the identity problems haunting the narrator and a better understanding of how these problems impact all of our lives. Vercher offers no final judgment on the questions of identity that he raises: The narrator has an ambiguous relationship to writing “Black” fiction, which he does out of duty but finds both fulfilling and contemptible, a torn feeling that all writers whose work is similarly labeled can relate to. This instability and in-betweenness mirrors identity itself, that thing we each supposedly have that we can never really pin down, that’s always changing and can never wholly describe us.

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Devil Is Fine

Devil Is Fine

By John Vercher
ISBN 9781250894489

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