Tyrus Books rereleases Nathan Singer’s In the Light of You, which is one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in a while. From the outset, we learn this is a tale of redemption. Mikal Fanon is one of only two white boys in his neighborhood, which leads him to fall in with a gang of skinheads calling themselves The Fifth Reich. It’s a tale of gang life from a different point of view, with this particular gang existing only for pure rage. They sleep in their steel-toed combat boots because “you never know when you’ll have to stomp someone.”
Singer doesn’t flinch from this first-person depiction, and despite references throughout that Fanon is writing a book, we don’t know if he’s writing Mein Kampf, a prison memoir, or a literary version of American History X. Fanon is caught up not so much in the hate and rage of the Fifth Reich as he is enamored by Richard Lovecraft, the group’s charismatic leader, a cult figure, and an extremely complicated man. He is also enamored with three women: Suzy, who is mainly a sex partner looking for an escape from home; Sherry, who is a Lovecraft’s girlfriend; and Niani, a black woman from Fanon’s old neighborhood and something of a cult-like figure herself. It’s Fanon’s unrequited crush that causes him confusion. He is supposed to be a dedicated Aryan warrior, but he develops a growing obsession with both Niani and Sherry.
What made this most unsettling for me was Singer’s somewhat fictionalized version of Cincinnati. I could recognize a lot of the neighborhoods in the book, even though they had altered or generic names. I found one scene set on the city square (really Fountain Square) where the Ku Klux Klan has an anemic rally, and even the Fifth Reich thugs are not all that impressed. It does give this story a real world feeling, but what makes this so compelling is Fanon’s transformation in the book. It has nothing to do with jail or religion. Violence is a part of that change, but it happens over time, perhaps before Fanon even finds an identity with the skinheads.
Nathan Singer has written an unflinching look at the darkest corner of society’s dark side, but it’s not for the faint of heart.