No Exit Press, £7.99stg
Chuck D, of Public Enemy, once told us "Don't believe the hype." Well, in the case of Kenji Jasper's new novel, you can and should believe all the hype.
'Dark' tells the dark and troubled tale of life on the streets of America, for a young black man, Thai Williams. Thai is goaded by his friends into the murder of his girlfriend's lover and embarks on a journey, both physical and metaphorical, as he struggles with self-realisation and tries to gain redemption. Set in the nether regions of inner city America, 'Dark' is a literary 'Boyz N The Hood' that finally gives young African-Americans a representation that is neither stereotyped nor apologetic.
Jasper, at 25, shows a rare gift for characterisation and detail, infusing this book with a realism and energy that highlight the attraction and repulsion he clearly feels towards thug life. Thai is torn between where he is going and where he is from. Anxious to keep his friends on board, as he tries to carve out a better life for himself.
This book is the product of a precocious talent. Jasper weaves a narrative that is as compelling as a Stephen King novel, whilst retaining his literary sensibilities. His prose style switches easily between flowing description and staccato dialogue, as the characters fire words as readily as they do guns.
All too often the young African American male has been stereotyped in, if you will forgive the pun, black and white: either portrayed as a Cosby Kid or a gangsta rapper. Jasper blows this away, challenging notions of right and wrong, nature versus nurture. No Exit Press have unearthed a real gem in Jasper; he understands the journey into America's heart of darkness, and takes us along for the ride.