As a young writer and recent addition to Razorcake’s list of contributors, I have much ingrained respect for Chris L. Terry (known to Razorcake readers as CT Terry). I approached the book with a sense of obligation to support one punk’s venture outside of music, especially in writing, as it always seems to me to be journeying outside the comfort zones of guitar feedback and garbled yells. So I was prepared to find any and every merit possible in Zero Fade. I was prepared to scrounge every paragraph and chapter. As luck would have it, the merits and brilliance of Terry’s first novel are as obvious as an overpass billboard.
Zero Fade is the story of Kevin Phifer, a black seventh grader struggling with his position on the social totem pole of school life during the early ‘90s, and Paul, his supportive and closeted uncle. Paul is a museum security guard struggling to find a man while juggling his duty as Kevin’s role model. Kevin is selfish, constantly avoiding bullies, guided by hard-ons and his longing for Aisha, a classmate who teases him because of his “mushy tushy,” and perpetually grounded for talking back to his mama.
The majority of the story unfolds from Kevin’s first-person perspective. Kevin is vulgar and clueless, but somehow endearing because of innocent misconceptions. Terry also grants Paul one section per chapter which allows the two narratives to commingle. Paul’s portions are brief and written in the third-person, but they add several layers to his character. Overall, the writing is snappy, laser precise, and frequently hilarious. But the jokes often reverberate twice. When Kevin prances around his mother’s room in tight red bottoms while imitating and listening to Eddie Murphy, there’s a subtle drama developing around the machismo of pop culture and its treatment of homosexuals. (Terry includes several of Murphy’s distasteful jokes about “fags.”) Although Zero Fade is technically a period piece, the societal questions posed and the problematic behavior of Kevin are still very pertinent.
Slowly, Kevin begins to question his own identity. He questions if his haircut is “gay” or if the touch of a gay barber can be contaminating or detrimental to his image. All the while, Paul fears that his relationship with his nephew as both a friend and father figure might be compromised by the knowledge of his sexuality. Paul’s internal conflicts and Kevin’s childlike vanity read authentically. Paul’s struggle is especially endearing as you constantly wish for Kevin to grow up. Luckily, the tone of the novel never detours into PSA territory. Instead, Terry allows the central figures to develop organically. In fact, after Paul comes out to Kevin, the seventh grader is dismayed and forced to confront his own prejudices. Yet, none of the resolutions are squeaky clean nor are they painfully cynical; Kevin’s journey into maturation is just as awkward and clumsy as it should be. The final results are an adeptly human novel.
Zero Fade is a damn fine read with a resounding message that never preaches, but instead talks to you across the table like a friend and ally. Highly recommended. Chris L. Terry is an author to keep an eye on. –Sean Arenas (Curbside Splendor, curbsidesplendor.com)