What if you could choose to become another race? What if you could change your skin color, your eye appearance, voice and body? Jess Row’s novel Your Face in Mine explores these questions and more.
Kelly Thorndike has returned to Baltimore after the sudden, devastating loss of his wife and daughter when he runs into his old friend, Martin, on the street. But when Kelly sees Martin he does a double-take—the Martin he knew was a geeky white Jewish kid in his old rock band while this Martin is a suave, well-heeled African American businessman. Can they be one and the same?
Martin draws Kelly into his world with cunning persuasion. Who wouldn’t want to know how and why someone would pursue such a radical change? Martin assures Kelly that racial reassignment surgery was what he wanted for himself deep down for a long time. In a twisting, compelling narrative, Row unfolds how these two men’s lives connect while delving into issues of race and identity.
In looking at white culture and black culture and the chasm that often exists between these lived experiences, Martin illustrates just how much work it takes to claim his sense of self as a black man. But Martin is a shifty character and the conclusion of the novel reveals just how calculating a person he has been with his friend Kelly from the beginning of their reconnection. But both Martin and Kelly leave much open to interpretation when it comes to their motives and desires, which makes them frustrating characters in one sense but more real in another.
Your Face in Mine would be perfect for discussion. One question I pondered with a couple of friends who have read it is how to categorize Row’s book. Is it speculative/science fiction, since the racial reassignment surgery described in the book isn’t, to my knowledge, available yet? Or is it realistic fiction, mapping potential directions for identity politics? I don’t know for sure, but I am curious to hear what others think.