Pale Dude is a novel of race relations and changing attitudes during the 1960s, told from the perspective of a young white couple, fresh from the Midwest, who move into a low-income New York City housing project in Harlem. This timely and unusual novel features vivid characters challenged by personal and political upheavals that force them to reassess who they are and what they think about the world.
Matthew Simmons is a 27-year-old undergraduate philosophy student at Columbia University. The day JFK is murdered, Matt stumbles out of school and returns to his musician wife Dee and their 2-year-old daughter Kayla in a housing project where most residents are black and Puerto Rican. A few minutes later, he hears a black neighbor, Rashid Kalif, violently trashing the apartment next door. With Dee’s help, Matt calms Rashid down, and the neighbors have a real conversation for the first time.
Rashid presents himself as African; his wife Leah is white; and they, like Matt and Dee, are the parents of a young child. The two families start meeting more often and soon become friendly. When Dee has a miscarriage during a blizzard, Rashid has the idea to steal a car and take her to the hospital—which Matt and Rashid do, together. After Matt reluctantly drops out of school, Rashid finds him a much-needed job in the factory where he works. Together they experience the Harlem riot of July 1964 and witness the assassination of Malcolm X, with divergent reactions.
Pale Dude evokes the idealism and activism of the 1960s, along with the ups and downs of living in a big-city housing project—trick-or-treating in the hallways, attempted rape in the stairwell. By the last page, Matt and Dee have come a long, long way from small-town Ohio.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.00 out of 10
Plot: Pale Dude is a book about racial disparity, set in the midst of Malcolm X’s era and the countered police brutality. This novel shows how Civil Rights followers were directly affected by the movement. In moments when Rashid struggles with his multicultural background, Wood applies Malcolm X’s teachings from his final revolution of Black nationalism.
Prose/Style: The language is smooth and methodical like a polished conscience. The vocabulary, executed with ease, allows readers to read at the pace of their own anticipating mind, as if their thoughts consume the written passages.
Originality: Centered in the beginning of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, Wood effectively uses this instrumental period to remind readers of Western civilization’s tainted past. The novel’s 1960s narrative demonstrates a time when many were unwilling to depart from ignorant ideals and capital and labor predestined Black communities to inequality.
Character Development/Execution: Wood chooses to tell his story through a third-person intimate perspective of Matthew, a white witness to the unraveling discrimination. The external influences at play mold the character, as he wrestles with his own role in the Civil Rights movement and whether he is or has ever been an opposing participant.
Date Submitted: May 23, 2021