YEAR OF THE RAT
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.
"Year of the Rat is a book that reads like a musical composition that reads like a painting. More than tell a story, it proposes a method, a way to sustain and share, in sound and images, the capacity to live, and to live beyond one’s means and beyond the accepted and expected."
An ambitious and bold first novel...acrobatic, logorrhoeic,
linguistically playful and poetic, occasionally symbolic...the music and
bounce of Richardson’s prose is wonderful...thriving on the emotions wrenched up from the poetic heft of his images and descriptions...
in a novel that successfully showcases the author’s gutsy talent.
"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."
"The book is certainly unique in voice and style, but it's also frightening, ugly, dense, and borderline offensive. 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."
"Year of the Rat is an attempt to transmute the shame and tumult of obsession into something like grace...waiting isn’t an option with Year of the Rat. This is a novel that commands attention...."
"An acute sense of the lethal and vital forces surrounding us seems to infuse the tremendous range of sentences colliding across the novel’s pages. Focused on the body and the anguish of grief, its style has shades of early Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, Sartre’s Nausea, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
"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."
– Cristina García, author of
Dreaming in Cuban and Here in Berlin
"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."
– Micheline Aharonian Marcom, author of
Three Apples Fell from Heaven and The Mirror in the Well
"Here is the debut of a breathtaking talent, a writer of relentless intelligence and vision. Marc Anthony Richardson's writing is at once ecstatic and gritty, fierce and tender, gorgeous and as potent as a bomb."
– Carolina De Robertis, author of
The Invisible Mountain and The Gods of Tango
“As word-drunk as Joyce, as sharp-eyed as Ellison, Richardson has a mesmerizing voice that grabs you by the ear and won’t let go. This poignant tale of a young man’s devotion to his family, while he struggles to succeed in a surreal art world, introduces him as an important new voice.”
– Cornelia Nixon, author of
Angels Go Naked and Jarrettsville
“Haunted by the sign of the moon, Marc Anthony Richardson's
remarkable and necessary debut, Year of the Rat, is an abject linguistic entity scrabbling through a complex underworld of love and disgust—a world of damaged, systematically marginalized black bodies from which Richardson's narrator continuously rises, bringing news, rage, and redemption in beauty and the irresistible connections of family.”
– Michael Mejia, author of
Marc Anthony Richardson received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California. He is an artist and writer from Philadelphia. Year of the Rat, his debut novel, was the winner of the 2015 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. In 2017, it was awarded an AmericanBook Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, founded by Ishmael Reed; the ceremony was televised on C-SPAN at the San Francisco Jazz Center. He is the recipient of a PEN America grant, a Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright fellowship, and a Vermont Studio Center residency. In summer 2020, he will be a writer-in-residence at Rhodes University in Makhanda, South Africa. Currently, he teaches creative writing at Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Messiahs, a speculative novel that takes place in a Kafkaesque America, one where you can assume the capital sentence of a relative for holy reform, has been completed.
The diner is packed and it is bright and after we eat we go next door to the adjoining bar of the same namesake to have a few. It is dark and the dance floor is dead and so I go into the restroom to take the last shot, but when I return it is like a revelry and the music’s turned up like a dress and despite the sciatica Andromaque’s hips are gyrating like a bacchante’s at the bottom of a wine barrel, If more men knew how to dance, she’s shouting, there would be less war, for with the exception of myself, in this tropical rain forest of bodies, even without the glasses and in the dark I can still see that I am the only man dancingdancingdancing—singing with his feet—while all the others are just standingstandingstanding, leaving Orpheus to his fate, to that Dionysian onslaught, to that wrath of laughter and that mirth of self-birth—to the transcendences of sweat: Goddamn it, she shouts, goddamn it! And then the scene shifts and we are veering off in her vehicle to access a shortcut that’ll run us past the Facility—of course we can’t couple there—and on to her place, and yet as we slow down we come upon a god incarnated as a cat. It is in the middle of an ill-lit intersection with asphalt affixed to its fully black fur, the hind half oozing a liquidy black while the upper half, a crazed cobra’s spectacled hood, darts this way and that, wildly ablaze by headlights and reddish intermissions—and no one knows how much is happening to it, not even an attempt with a tire or two, just cars circumventing its hisses with that post-precipitation smell, the rain having started and stopped again, enlivening the atmosphere. A plaintive and yet composed voice addresses Andromaque and without saying a word she merely pulls aside the curb; without looking at me she tells me that there’s an orange plastic crate in the back with some stripped gardening gloves and yet doesn’t bother to budge. Of course I have to move it first, so as I’m sallying forth to meet it, signaling a car that has the right to go to stop, I see its eyes twinkling like bicycle reflectors embedded inside its head. Careful to avoid a reward of fangs I seize it and then the body constricts, a sphincteral agony, a writhing water bag abristle as those severed hind articulations and clean fractures allow bone to swish around inside like warm chunks of ice; dejecta burbles and an evil gas is emitted, shattering my concentration so that a glove is bitten—a jolt: such a transference of fury and pain and maddening terror that like a drenched towel my hands begin wringing its neck. Cars continue to circumvent the event, intervallic headlights spotlight the tragedy, showcasing this ineffectual act, for with its spine towards me I have twisted its neck to such superb extension that its face—not a face—is facing mine, a hundred and eighty degrees of shocked vibrissae on a death mask with a mid-hiss rising mutedly in the air like a wink: Elegba is here. Àsé. I throttle it and the eyes rise. Àsé. A long-drawn-out horn swishes by—àsé—as outrage leaps from a window in the form of a fleeting profanity, a pearl of sweat plummets into its maw and the mask flickers like a wick, the eyeglasses are fogging up and I am counting down and cold and sweating and the smell and the honking and the headlights and the liquor and the peeling-masking tape sound of the wet tires on the wet asphalt—the openness of it all—makes my stomach revolt to such an extent that I have to gulp the gunk back down, leaving the nauseous tang of acidic cheese in my mouth, sweetened by the dinner’s rice pudding dessert which has the dreaded metallic aftertaste of a tin bell’s resonance. I return with the crate. A Cheshire cat, a silhouette with eyes and teeth and a feline physique, crosses the dim street before me to ask for spare change and I say none that I can spare and get into the car. The gloves are off and I am wiping my glasses. Andromaque is staring, her silence scratching my corneas. Drive up Ridge, I say....
After I wipe her down dress feed and medicate her, after I strip and wipe down the mattress, placing a towel over the stain and replacing the sheets (having rolled her onto her sides to do so), after I dress feed and medicate myself I lie down beside her—and I am tearing, Marie, for our favorite program is on: There’s nothing like animation before a film, she says, the tablets taking hold, and then out of some association with the illusion of movement she tells me of the first time, the gang leader the boyfriend, like someone ripping her insides out, of when she first bled and how her mother wouldn’t let her go over the wall with the boys anymore, of how her body had come alive very early and of the white hand inside her pocket, of the boys who were her friends and had tried to rape her, of how she beat them harder, yes, harder than they beat themselves and as she drifts further back, by the time she is in the red clay ditch she is fast asleep—and I am seeing what I cannot really see: is she falling down a staircase or in the tub or in the middle of the street and I’m not there? am I seeing her falling down a staircase or in the tub or in the middle of the street? am I going blind? am I being misunderstood? am I pissing on myself? am I married am I imprisoned am I employed? am I becoming the child and not the dream? am I destroying myself my work? am I killing someone? am I dying in a room full of people who are afraid to touch me…? But as the sun descends I see now not all of our quality time will be spent during the day, there will be quality nights as well: from birth to my fourth year I will sleep by her side, yet from my fourth to my seventh her bed will become a privilege. For whenever the man is home, for the child fathers the man, I will grapple almost nightly with bed sheets as though battling apparitions, and whenever the lights are left on, at breakfast table with spear in hand, fiercely will he rise up the issue of the electric bills. But there will be many stormy nights when she will let me sneak abed under the extenuation of fear, and never will she stir although lightly will she sleep: she will feign sleep until I fall asleep and follow suit, waking me only to crawl away before the man rises. There will even be nights when she will go to bed unclothed to wait for the little thief, for her sadness would have metastasized and she will confide in me; on such turbulent nights under the guise of subterfuge, aside the man who sleeps like a rock under sea, under the touch of an antenna her little cockroach, she will allow me admittance into the wonderful creases of her being. All except one. For when I’ll try to quest this only then will she moan and stir, only then will I surcease. Pray for storms. For on one night when I am seven she will be in remission, and several of those antennas will glide several times inside that awful region as agents of pollination to return an eternity later, radiant and redolent of the magnolias once whiffed in the American South.
September 27, 2016
Mills Hall Living Room (with LeAnne Howe)
Oakland, California; Time: 5:30pm
October 1, 2016
Robbie Waters Library
Sacramento, California; Time: 6pm
Oct 3, 2016
Weller Book Works
(with Doug Rice, sponsored by Utah Humanities)
Salt Lake City, Utah; Time: 7pm
Oct 5, 2016
Saint Louis, Missouri; Time: 6:30pm
Oct 12, 2016
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
(Historic Victorian Museum, Washington Foyer)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 6pm
Oct 23, 2016
(courtesy of the artist Hollis Heichemer)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 5pm
February 10, 2017
Conference & Book Fair (50th Anniversary)
Washington, District of Columbia; Time: 7pm
March 25, 2017
(with Vi Khi Nao)
Brooklyn, New York; Time: 6pm
April 6, 2017
(with: Kay Gabriel, Kyle Schlesinger, and Elias Rodrigues)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 7:30pm
April 22, 2017
University of Pennsylvania Bookstore
(with Caren Beilin and Sam Allingham)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 7:30pm
April 27, 2017
(with Caren Beilin and Raquel Salas Rivera)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 6:30pm
June 4, 2017
Davis, California; Time: 5pm (PT) internet radio
October 14, 2017
(with Eléna Rivera and Cynthia Arrieu-King)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 7:30pm
October 22, 2017
(on C-SPAN and open to the public)
San Francisco, California; Time: 12 pm
October 30, 2017
LIVE on WXPN (88.5 FM)
(with Vi Khi Nao, Raquel Salas Rivera,
Caren Beilin, and Elias Rodriques)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 7pm (ET) internet radio
March 15, 2018
(with Ru Freeman and Emma Copley Eisenberg)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 7pm
June 26, 2018
(with various contributers)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Time: 7pm
© 2018 by Marc Anthony Richardson
Author Photo by Frances Hwang