about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of critical study The Aliites: Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali (University of Chicago Press, 2019), novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011), chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008).

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Shirtless Men Drink Free
A Review of Shirtless Men Drink Free
by Dwaine Rieves

Spencer Dew

The Georgia of this political thriller is haunted, not by some Southern Gothic specter of a dead Confederate but by a more marketable bugbear—the imagined taint of “homosexuality,” favorite rhetorical trick of those who build their voter base on hate and fear. There’s real morality at stake, as there always is with the governance of humans, but why care about that when you can dog whistle and virtue signal and count ballots all the way to the bank? And the profitability—of politics, fear-mongering, and more traditional forms of corporate exploitation—is a driving force here, driving all over the people of Georgia.

The real moral crusade at the heart of this story is one waged against big tobacco, one poisonous corporate stand-in for dozens of others, but organic to the Georgia soil, its bloody history. Dr. Jane Beekman lost her mother to cancer, and now she’s hoping her brother-in-law’s gubernatorial campaign can help save other lives. Her desire, boiled down to a policy proposal, is a dollar-a-pack tax on cigarettes. Use politics to help the people, she urges, rather than as an institution through which corporate entities can maintain control of profits at a cost of human suffering. But what’s a straightforward, practical, good-for-the-many policy proposal compared to intrigue and innuendo?

Politics in this novel is half shadow-theater (immigrants: fear them!) and part muscle-work (guns aren’t just a campaign issue; they’re a useful tool for backroom negotiations). The façade of righteous crusades are, as is so often the case in the reality TV genre called American democracy, predicated on the keeping of secrets, on hypocrisy and disavowal.

Set in 2004—which feels, now, like a wistful period in American electoral brawling—this novel explores polarization not only as a broad sociological phenomenon but also as a domestic reality. How does one family handle the blood-sport of America politics: part absurdity theater, part death-by-numbers, and part demonology (with certain populations, like those real-life folks identified and identifying under the rubric of “homosexuals”—or “immigrants”—suffering under the brunt of a system that uses their existence as a distraction, a ploy, as disposable as election night confetti.

Official Dwaine Rieves Web Site
Official Tupelo Press Web Site

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