This farrago of prose, images, and free verse attempts to delve into the relationship between black Americans and the racism they face, as found in the memory of murdered young black men, the on-court tribulations of Serena Williams, and Rankine’s psyche, shaped by everyday encounters with racism. Unfortunately, any substance the author can contribute to this worthwhile task is obscured by the opacity of her style. Citizen is a caricature of both theory’s abstractness and free verse’s disdain for coherence: “Memory is a tough place. You were there. If this is not the truth, it is also not a lie. There are benefits to being without nostalgia. Certainly nostalgia and being without nostalgia relieve the past.” (Some of the material is adapted from performance art pieces; perhaps it was more compelling in its original form.) Citizen fails not because it isn’t an easy read—difficult topics warrant difficult books—but because, for all its murky atmosphere, it offers nothing to be challenged by.
–Published October 7th by Graywolf Press