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A black law student navigates the era of Rodney King and the Oklahoma City bombing—and his own anger issues—in this “mordantly funny” novel (San Francisco Chronicle).
Shortlisted for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
In Knucklehead we meet Marcus Hayes, a black law student who struggles, sometimes unsuccessfully, with the impulse to respond to everyday bad behavior with swift and antisocial action. The cause of this impulse is unknown to him. When Marcus unexpectedly becomes involved with the brilliant, kind Amalia Stewart, her love and acceptance pacify his demons. But when his demons return, he is no longer inclined to contain them . . .
“By setting his novel in the ’90s, Smyer, who lives in Oakland, has crafted some brutal deja vu. As Marcus reflects on Rodney King, the Million Man March and the Oklahoma City bombing, we think of Freddie Gray, Black Lives Matter and school shootings that have become a way of life. And when Marcus laments San Francisco’s dwindling black population, here we are more than twenty years on, and it’s only gotten worse. We should all be furious.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Here is a list of things you'll need to read this book: ample space for stretching out the side stitches you’ll get from laughter; half a box of tissues for the most gripping and harrowing dramas at the heart of the novel; a fresh stress ball for the tense situations the protagonist finds himself in (both of his own doing and not); and just a bit of that space in your heart to see people, in all their complexity, trying to do their best.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Marcus Hayes careens through the racially divisive 1990s while trying to manage his compulsive anger, chaotic love life, and economic misfortunes . . . Smyer gives Marcus a sardonic and hilarious voice reminiscent of a Paul Beatty protagonist and endows him with a troubled psychology that plumbs the nuances of black male identity.” —Kirkus Reviews
“While not strictly a crime novel, Smyer’s debut Knucklehead does contain a whole lot of guns, violence, and rage, as well as plenty of love and sadness. A black lawyer in the late ’80s through the mid-’90s deals with micro and macro aggressions from a society determined to treat him as a criminal. Also, there are cats. Lots of cats.” —Literary Hub