IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE Ride Around Shining exists.
Incredulity is probably a natural reaction to finding Portland's recent history transformed into fiction—much less audacious fiction that tackles big issues like race and class and the ol' chestnut of American reinvention. And all by way of none other than the Portland Trail Blazers.
In Chris Leslie-Hynan's debut novel, the main character, Jess, lies his way into a job chauffeuring for a star Blazer, Calyph West. Jess is white; Calyph is black. The book is chiefly concerned with Jess' deeply dysfunctional (and possibly kinda gay?) attitude toward his employer.
The book's jacket makes comparisons to The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Great Gatsby, and Harold Pinter's The Servant. The comparisons are accurate; moreover, they all serve to remind the reader that in no uncertain terms are we to take Jess at face value. Just because he's our protagonist doesn't mean we're supposed to like him, and the book challenges the reader to look beyond Jess' narrow, insecure, vaguely racist point of view to understand what's really going on.
Jess comes from "the great white middle-middles," the product of a bland Midwestern upbringing where people "enjoy nothing but our sensible lack of gaudiness....
"This is a terrible fate," Jess muses, "and I think I envied something about every other class of American." His chauffeuring job allows him a toehold into a different life entirely—but as he begins to overstep his role, things get sinister fast.
Leslie-Hynan's prose is guarded, often coyly revealing just slightly less about a scene than the reader wants to know. But he makes up for it with bright, precise metaphors—scattered shoes cover the floor of a closet "like a harbor full of boating accidents"—and underline-able musings from sad, horrible Jess, who can't seem to stop lying to himself and others: "I wanted America's conception of how long youth could last to continue to recede conveniently beyond my aging, and yet also to stop so I could settle down swiftly and fulfill my promise."
The novelty of reading about Portland through this lens is almost draw enough—LaMarcus Aldridge drops by a barbecue scene to grill up some turkey burgers! But Leslie-Hynan's debut has far more going for it than mere local appeal. It's a provocative, bracing, and totally singular look at how white entitlement can fester in the face of black accomplishment.