Shifting Through Neutral


Shifting Through Neutral

Hardcover, 305 Pages ISBN: 0060572493
Amistad / An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Paperpack, ISBN: 0-06-057250-7

For Rae Dodson, the early seventies are as hopeful and promising as the peace signs popping up everywhere. The signature sounds of Motown are filling Detroit’s airwaves, and automobile factories are supporting a burgeoning black middle class, which works by day and plays bid whist by night. Rae’s hip older sister, Kimmie, has moved home from New Orleans; her mother’s nerves have calmed enough for her to stop taking her “vitamins”; her father has discovered new painkillers that ease his chronic migraines; and now, despite her parents’ sleeping in separate rooms, the peace between them seems to be holding. All that shifts, however, when Rae’s mother suddenly takes off with her lover down a stretch of highway.

Left to care for her ailing father, Rae grows up faster than any young girl should and is forced to admit that her mother may be incapable of love, that her father’s love may be too all-consuming. What’s most obvious is that neither seems fully capable of looking after Rae, who is searching not only for a way to make her family whole again but also for a way to make sense of her own budding sexuality.


Author Bridgett M. Davis takes you on a tour of places in her hometown–Detroit, Michigan–that inspired her debut novel, “Shifting Through Neutral”.

With fully realized characters and an infinitely imaginative storyline, Shifting Through Neutral heralds the arrival of a promising new talent.


Publishers Weekly:

“In her strong debut, indie film director Davis (1996’s Naked Acts ) deconstructs the daddy’s girl myth by viewing it from a fresh African-American perspective. Set in Detroit between 1967 and 1980, this lively coming-of-age tale rocks with the sounds of Stevie Wonder, whose own mother serves as one of the card-playing supporting characters. Rae Dodson has no regrets about sleeping on the back of her slowly dying father, JD, a General Motors assembly-line worker suffering from hypertension and granted disability at age 36, until she’s forced, at age nine, to sleep in her own bedroom (“I formed myself out of the five o’clock shadow of his maleness”). The reader braces for the worst, but Davis opts for the high road as she explores the father and daughter’s almost symbiotic relationship, contrasting it with the distant one Rae has with her troubled mother, Vy. Meanwhile, Vy waits for Cyril, her lover and the father of Rae’s older sister Kimmie, to rescue her from a marriage marred by JD’s infidelity. Heartbreak and sudden tragedy compel the appealing Rae to grow up on the fast track. Davis doesn’t miss a beat in this moving study of dysfunctional families and the power of transcendent love. Apt driving manual excerpts head each section, while a wonderfully done twist ending strikes a final ironic note. Two thumbs up, and skip the speed bumps at your own risk.”

“A beautifully rendered first novel.”
—Washington Post

“Vivid and heartbreaking….A riveting family drama filled with sharply drawn individuals who love and fail each other with stunning intensity.”

A complex first novel.

“Richly detailed and intimate….Davis eloquently paints a picture seldom seen: the abiding affection black fathers have for their children.”
Detroit Free Press


“There is a strange, compelling sweetness to the sorrow in this book, a poignancy that cuts through the tender tissue of family love….A wonderful and unique story of a father and a daughter.”
—Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys

“A beautifully rendered story….The setting and characters are so familiar yet largely absent in contemporary fiction, particularly the father, JD–although there is one in every black neighborhood. I adored him and will remember him for a very long time.”
—Benilde Little, author of Acting Out and Good Hair

“….a vibrant, deeply felt journey through a young woman’s coming-of-age and coming to understand her father. Hop in — this novel is a ride well worth taking. Bridgett Davis knows the rules of the road.”
—Martha Southgate, author of Third Girl From The Left, and The Fall of Rome


After he returned to me, I slept every night atop Daddy’s broad back. He was a soft, wide man and miraculously he remained still throughout our slumber — never rolled over, never pushed me off. How that sleeping arrangement came to be I do not know, but it felt as natural to me as play.

Even as a little girl, I knew my father needed me. He was a sick man in near-constant pain from migraines and unable to work. He needed me to fetch his medicine, to make cool compresses for his aching head, to massage his temples with my small hands. And he needed me to help fill his days. He left the house only when it was necessary to go to doctor’s appointments, to buy food, to cash his pension check. Otherwise, he stayed close to home, not bothering to strike up friendly conversations with the neighbors.

My father felt out of sync with these men who walked out of their front doors each morning dressed in starched shirts and skinny ties, to civil jobs in government offices, their kinky hair kept low. He preferred to wear his hair in defiant waves like Cab Calloway, lie across his sofa bed dressed in elegant silky underwear, and watch daytime TV — his ears perked for the sound of us school children walking home along Birchcrest Road, our high, pebbly voices drifting into his open window. Other days, he read hard-luck paperbacks by the light of a naked bulb stuck in an old, shade-less lamp as a transistor radio tossed the blues into the room. He might sometimes drive his sleek gray Cutlass Supreme Oldsmobile to Mr. Alfred’s auto body shop, where he’d shoot the breeze. But by the time I skipped up the walkway, book bag slung across my shoulder, face flush from conquering a new cursive letter or the secret to multiplying by nine, he was standing on the porch waiting to greet me. Together we wound through our evening of dinner, cards, TV, close sleep.

This is how Daddy remained alive for me all those years – by settling into a life of simple actions, slow movements, perpetual rest. Speed brought throbbing headaches and so he paced himself. When doing nothing still made his head hurt, he mitigated the pain with loose aspirin and later, sleep-inducing injections of demoral — eking out as many extra years as he could to imbed himself, like a fossil, into my psyche. As a result, I formed myself out of the five o’clock shadow of his maleness.

He hadn’t always been sick. The migraines didn’t appear until he was thirty-two. Before then, his hypertension was symptom-less, allowing him to spend his young manhood like many migrated southern black men – gratefully working over-time at factory jobs, eating neck bones and greens slow-cooked by big-boned women, playing hard every Friday night after payday.

But I only knew Daddy one way, apart from a few old photographs and scattered stories about his past – as a doting father worn down by pain. It’s the image I savor, the one I prefer. If he’d been a virile, healthy man when I entered his life who is to say whether he would’ve stayed at home, giving so much of that life to me?