Truth or Circumstances
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Published in: March-April 2022 issue.


by Joe Okonkwo
Amble Press. 181 pages, $16.95


KISS THE SCARS on the Back of My Neck is a collection of short stories, many of them featuring gay Black men. Several, including the title story, are linked by two recurring characters whose lives are depicted from childhood to adulthood in separate tales, until the final story brings them together.

            Okonkwo explores the complexities and intersections of sexuality, race, and class. The first story, “Picnic Street,” follows Justine, who has moved back to small-town Mississippi with her young son Paulie after leaving her husband. Intelligent, with sophisticated tastes, someone who knows Les pêcheurs de perles to be “one of the most sublime yet least performed operas in the repertory,” Justine stands out here, where many of her neighbors criticize her for liking things that only “white folks” enjoy and leaving her husband. Even her own sister, whose house she and Paulie are staying in, does not understand her, spending much of her time in her bedroom. Justine carefully navigates her way through this difficult situation, scolding Paulie for leaving out his Legos (and risking making her sister angry), while standing up to a mean-spirited neighbor whose children, Justine thinks, “would not attain anything better than what they had now.”

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Charles Green, a frequent contributor to these pages, is a writer based in Annapolis, Maryland.