Books I Wish I’d Written: The alchemical novel A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan

Vintage Contemporaries  2000 Chin-Yee Lai

Whatever happened to Randall Kenan?
If you like magical realism, you must read his first, and to my knowledge, only published novel, A Visitation of Spirits. The book follows a young closeted black nerd (comic books are his obsession) named Horace. He wants to transform into a bird to escape the religious, homophobic community where he lives. He believes that his desire is the result of demonic possession. The novel chronicles a season in hell, to borrow Rimbaud’s phrase. Keenan’s prose soars and he uses all manner of narrative techniques to convey Horace’s interior emotional landscape. It’s what I would call an alchemical novel, one that transcends the limitations of realistic fiction to reveal greater truths. A Visitation of Spirits is a masterpiece of magical realism and belongs on the same shelf as Toni Morrison and Ben Okri. It is also a seminal work about black gay lives. Anyone who loves lush, surreal language should hunt down a copy!
I wish Kenan would write another book!

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