The Weight by Jeff Boyd


It was a NYT review that took me to this book. Julian tells us—in surprising detail—about his life as a Black man who lives in that very White city, Portland, Oregon. Christian faith was important in his family and he had gone to a Christian college. When we meet him at age 24, he has given up his teaching job, ended his marriage, rejected his Christian belief, and moved to the West Coast. What caused him to end all these important connections in his life is unclear, but he is truly on his own. He has a job answering the phone at a marketing company that opens each day with prayer. He has a like-minded friend who works there that he has multi-martini lunches with.

He is the drummer in a band that is important in his life. He is friends with his bandmates and lives in a house rented by one of them. He always has money problems, but has resources; his roommate is well-off and generous and if he were in dire circumstances, his parents could help him. He drinks and smokes spliffs when he should go home to sleep on a work night. He can barely bring himself to make it to his job and has no interest in it, but has no plan for a change. He agrees to a short-term sexual relationship with a woman who is engaged. He makes friends with a mixed race teenage boy who lives near him and uses language that offends the boy and then tells him his White parents are racists. He met a Black woman he is drawn to, but their connection is complicated. He is grumpy and offensive when the band goes on a tour, but of course he’s not the only cranky one. He has a couple of scary moments with police. He sleeps with a bandmate’s ex-girlfriend.

For much of the book I kept looking for the narrative arc; Julian has drama from day to day, but it is his unusual point of view that is ultimately the point. I am glad to have heard what’s in the head of this person. Julian’s intensely Christian background shows up occasionally despite his new beliefs. We observe how he thinks about and meets the difficulties he encounters as a Black man in a White culture. Though he goes through a rough patch when he returns from the band’s tour and finds the house where he lives on fire, by the end of the book some of his problems seem to be alleviated. The connection with the Black woman seems more promising and he finds himself able to reconnect with his parents.

Jeff Boyd, The Weight, Simon and Schuster, 2023, 336 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available in the public library.

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