Shifting Through Neutral
Hardcover, 305 Pages ISBN: 0060572493
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”.
“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.”
“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.”
PRAISE FOR SHIFTING THROUGH NEUTRAL:
“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.”
“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.”
“….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.”