Trust me, you’ve never read anything like Marc Anthony Richardson’s Year of the Rat, and you must stop everything you’re doing right now and make time for it. Gorgeous, unsparing, heartbreaking, the book is a prose poem of a testament to motherhood, to manhood, to lost generations, to hope itself.
Year of the Rat
Marc Anthony Richardson
Winner of the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and The American Book Award
In Year of the Rat, an artist returns to the dystopian city of his birth to tend to his invalid mother only to find himself torn apart by memories and longings. Narrated by this nameless figure whose rants, reveries, and Rabelaisian escapades take him on a Dantesque descent into himself, the story follows him and his mother as they share a one-bedroom apartment over the course of a year.
Despite his mother’s precarious health, the lingering memories of a lost love, an incarcerated sibling, a repressed sexuality, and an anarchic inability to support himself, he pursues his dream of becoming an avant-garde artist. His prospects grow dim until a devastating death provides a painful and unforeseeable opportunity. With a voice that is poetic and profane, ethereal and irreverent, cyclical and succinct, he roams from vignette to vignette, creating a polyphonic patchwork quilt of a family portrait.
Even the most challenging of transgressive writers pales in comparison … Technically a novel, it will make all but the most experimental of readers throw it across a room.
In language that is at times phantasmagoric, at times ribald, and always beautiful, Marc Anthony Richardson’s debut novel astounds. Bold, provocative, and ambitious: we have a new, indispensable voice in American letters.
Richardson has found a way to describe in words the inability to understand other people—he uses dense prose that circles on itself and leaps from present to flashback, depicting a muddled mind at work…once readers enter the story it’s easy to be swept into its stormy momentum, and to acknowledge the very promising start of the author’s career.
Messiahs is a fever dream of storytelling. It explores racism and interracial conflict, the deadly prison industrial complex, climate emergency, social death, and more in prose that unfurls like waves of sound. Bleak, though not without hope, challenging, though with numerous rewards along the way, innovative from start to finish, Messiahs is a marvel.
Marc Anthony Richardson
A fiercely ecstatic tale of betrayal and self-sacrifice
Messiahs centers on two nameless lovers, a woman of east Asian descent and a former state prisoner, a black man who volunteered incarceration on behalf of his falsely convicted nephew, yet was “exonerated” after more than two years on death row. In this dystopian America, one can assume a relative’s capital sentence as an act of holy reform—“the proxy initiative,” patterned after the Passion.
The lovers begin their affair by exchanging letters, and after his release, they withdraw to a remote cabin during a torrential winter, haunted by their respective past tragedies. Savagely ostracized by her family for years, the woman is asked by her mother to take the proxy initiative for her brother—creating a conflict she cannot bear to share with her lover. Comprised of ten poetic paragraphs, Messiahs’ rigorous style and sustained intensity equals agony and ecstasy.
In Messiahs, Marc Anthony Richardson gives us an innovative, intelligent, and insightful take on several American obsessions, including punishment, incarceration, and the death penalty. As much as this layered narrative presents a warning about things to come, it also offers a profound examination of rebirth, redemption, second-acts. All in all an unnerving, uncanny, and challenging read on many levels, but well worth the effort.
Marc Anthony Richardson’s extraordinary novel Messiahs explores the intimate cost of incarceration through a lens you’ve never seen before, and is also about love, race, erotic bonds, and the mysteries of human consciousness in an unjust world. Set in a possible near future in which prisons accept ‘proxies’ for capital punishment, this novel probes the depths, and is written with exquisite lyricism and unrelenting grace.
Messiahs is slim and so rigorously self-contained, and yet it has everything. The whole time I was reading it, I had a mysterious and lovely bell tolling in my head: Clarice Lispector, Clarice Lispector . . . and her questions of how do—can—we unselve? Empathy’s potentialities, and its limits, are constantly engaged in this book, and in this way, it goes beyond the excellent political commentary on the criminal justice system. At one point, Richardson writes that ‘sustained intensity equals ecstasy,’ and that is both the style of the writing and of the reader’s experience of this book: it sends you back to the first chapter as soon as you finish the last page.