John Vercher’s Three-Fifths is a powerhouse of a debut, unflinching and honest in its portrayal of race, injustice, and identity. Set against the backdrop of the OJ Simpson trial in 1995, racial tensions are high, and the neighbourhood lines are strictly drawn in a wintry Pittsburgh. The reunion of two childhood friends—one biracial who hides behind the identity of a racist white man, the other just released from a horrific prison stint and newly girded with the dogma of white supremacy—is the harbinger of shocking violence, a hidden crime, and a young man’s quest for identity, justice, and absolution.
Vercher’s writing is intelligent and crisp in style, the tale tightly told without a wasted word. There are no stereotypes here, only characters who are emotionally raw and intimately portrayed. Marriage, motherhood, fatherhood, and friendship are viscerally unpacked and exposed on the page. Race, identity, masculinity, and authenticity to oneself are explored in a thought-provoking, eloquent, pointed manner. The slant of the justice system, the brutality and racism of the police, and the appalling violence of the prison system are highlighted throughout the course of the tale. This story has a wealth of themes seamlessly woven together without ever feeling overcrowded, and the pace drives the reader toward an ending that is both inevitable and surprising.
This is at once a riveting crime thriller and a striking social commentary. A literary edge to the writing style gives this tale even more teeth. Compassionate, thoughtful, and gritty, Three-Fifths is a compelling, timely read. John Vercher’s talent is evident, and this is an author to be watched.
Highly recommended for fans of thoughtfully rendered, tense crime fiction with social discourse interwoven into the plot
Many thanks to NetGalley and Polis Books for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review