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Always Smiling

Paul Mendez: ‘Real Life’, 19 November 2020

Real Life 
by Brandon Taylor.
Daunt, 327 pp., £9.99, July, 978 1 911547 74 7
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... Wallace,​ the protagonist of Brandon Taylor’s first novel, Real Life, is black, gay, overweight and from Alabama. When he moved to an unnamed university town in the Midwest to study for a doctorate in biochemistry, he told himself that he had to be ‘a Midwesterner at heart’ because ‘being in the South and being gay were incompatible … no two parts of a person could be more incompatible ...

Screwdriver in the Eye

Paul Mendez: David Keenan, 7 October 2021

Xstabeth 
by David Keenan.
White Rabbit, 168 pp., £14.99, November 2020, 978 1 4746 1705 5
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Monument Maker 
by David Keenan.
White Rabbit, 808 pp., £25, August, 978 1 4746 1709 3
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... David Keenan’s​ first novel, This Is Memorial Device: An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-86 (2017), documents the rise and fall of a fictitious (though awesomely real) band called Memorial Device. Its members are from Keenan’s home town of Airdrie – about thirteen miles east of Glasgow – and the book takes the form of 26 testimonies from band members, friends, jilted lovers, relatives, hangers-on and rival acts ...

Did he leap?

Paul Mendez: ‘Harlem Shuffle’, 16 December 2021

Harlem Shuffle 
by Colson Whitehead.
Fleet, 320 pp., £16.99, September, 978 0 7088 9944 1
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... Colson Whitehead​ planned Harlem Shuffle as a comic relief project after the trauma of writing The Underground Railroad (2016), his novel of captivity and escape set in the 19th-century American South. Following Trump’s election, however, he felt unable to detach himself from the reality of institutional racism in the US. The Nickel Boys (2019), the book he began instead, was inspired by the grim discovery of mass grave sites at Dozier School for Boys: it tells the story of Elwood Curtis, a talented 16-year-old acolyte of Martin Luther King Jr, who has hope and promise snatched away by the torturous racial violence to which he’s subjected at a reform school in Florida in the early 1960s ...

Strut like Mutya

Nicole Flattery: Paul Mendez, 22 October 2020

Rainbow Milk 
by Paul Mendez.
Dialogue, 353 pp., £14.99, April 2020, 978 0 349 70059 5
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... of underprivileged teenagers navigating the banlieues of Paris, but it could be straight from Paul Mendez’s first novel, Rainbow Milk, which examines issues of race, class and sexual identity through the prism of millennial culture. About a third of the way through the book, its protagonist, Jesse McCarthy, summons the courage to enter a gay bar by ...

At Auckland Castle

Nicola Jennings: Francisco de Zurbarán, 4 June 2020

... They have hung there since 1756, when the bishop of Durham acquired them from the estate of James Mendez, a Jewish merchant of Portuguese descent. Mendez bought them from William Chapman in 1720, just after the collapse of the South Sea Company, in which Chapman was a shareholder. How and when the paintings arrived in ...

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