A love story. An interracial couple. Joy. Happiness. Culture clashes. Family. Friends. Work. Life. Police. Arrest. Trial. Guilt?
LORRAINE DEVON WILKE’S THIRD NOVEL, THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE, ventures beyond the humor and pathos of family drama explored so cleverly in her first two novels to dig deep into the politics of contemporary culture. At its heart a love story, it explores the complexity of race dynamics in a suspenseful drama driven by issues of privilege, prejudice, police profiling and legal entanglements, and the disparities in how those provocative themes impact the various and diverse characters involved.
In a world so full of lonely people and broken hearts, CHRIS HAWKINS, a black sound engineer from Chicago’s south side, and SIDONIE FRAME, white, suburban-raised; head manager of one of the city’s most elite venues, meet by work-related happenstance and fall quickly in love, convinced that by that act alone they can inspire peace, joy, and happiness in the world around them. The world, however, has other ideas.
Their meeting was serendipitous. Chris, who owns and runs his company, is surrounded largely by members of his own community; Sidonie, conversely, is rarely outside the environs of work and its predominantly white staff and clientele. But when the club’s sound manager goes AWOL on the night of a big event, and Chris is hired to come in as a last-minute replacement, destinies collide.
Immediately drawn to each other, they fall quickly into an unexpected and thrilling relationship, inspiring myriad reactions amongst family and friends on both sides of the racial divide. But even as their love story evolves, day-to-day tensions, police disruptions, and the micro-aggressions of Chris’s life as a black man in the gritty environs of Chicago become a cultural flashpoint, challenging Sidonie’s privileged worldview and Chris’s ability to translate events. After a random and gut-wrenching series of police encounters shakes their resilience, it’s the shattering circumstance of a violent arrest, in which Chris is identified as a serial vandal and potential rapist, that sends their world into free fall.
He claims his innocence, she believes him, but forces pushing against them are many and oppressive. With a looming trial to endure, the dissipating loyalties of key allies, and unforeseen twists triggering doubt and suspicion, Sidonie and Chris are driven to question what they really know of each other and just who to trust, leading to a powerful and emotional conclusion.
Given the subject matter of my latest book, I wanted to share a little background as to why I felt this specific story was mine to tell, particularly at this time when concerns surrounding “cultural appropriation” and whose voice gets to tell stories of race are widely debated and deserving of meaningful conversation.
Earlier in my life I spent six years in an interracial relationship. As educated as I thought I was on the topic of race and bias, and as open-minded and racially progressive as my upbringing had been, it turns out I had only a glimpse of the bigger picture and so very much to learn. Witnessing, tangentially experiencing, and reacting to the “micro-aggressions,” recurring police harassment, and flat-out bigotry my partner dealt with on a day-to-day basis forever changed my worldview on the reality of race in America.
I learned then, before the phrase had even been coined in its more current context, the insensitivity and arrogance of “white privilege.” I was forced to acknowledge the racial disparities found in law enforcement and the justice system. I vicariously felt the pain of the “million little cuts” inflicted by ignorant men who’d admonish him to “get over his black thing,” terrified women who locked their car doors as he walked past, or friends whose casual racism was brushed off as “just a joke.”
Later in my writing career, it struck me that this experience offered not only the seeds of a topical and dramatic story, but brought into the conversation the specific, shared, but disparate perspectives of a mixed-race couple. That seemed a useful point-of-view to explore, particularly when lack of experiential empathy too often leaves participants in the discussion struggling for true understanding. As a long-time contributor to HuffPost, I referenced my personal experience in a couple of Op-Eds on the topic of race, which not only gave me access to a wide audience open to the conversation, but allowed me proximity to dialogue and feedback from both sides of the racial divide. As I began to formulate the narrative of this novel, that education helped bring the story into the current zeitgeist.
But I’m also aware of, and have occasionally written about, the controversies surrounding white writers including black characters (or any characters outside their own culture) in their literary works, which has sparked a debate about who gets to tell those particular stories; who has true insight to offer; who should talk, who should listen, and how we process information from the side we’re not on. Even with the sensitivities surrounding those issues, my gut told me I had a worthy story to tell. Because of those sensitivities, I was determined to accomplish that goal as authentically as I could, allowing the unvarnished, sometimes painful, and frequently illuminating viewpoints of each character to be honestly expressed throughout.
From there I created a fictional set of characters, put them in contemporary Chicago (the city of my birth), plotted out their story arc, and gave them many of the challenges and obstacles I’d witnessed and experienced in my long-ago relationship… ones that, sadly, still resonate in current times. Adding perspective gleaned from prodigious research, myriad interviews, and essential input from sensitivity readers, THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE came to life with as much humanity, truth, and credibility as I could capture. At its heart it’s a love story, if one framed by the provocation of race dynamics in modern day America. I hope you fing it both genuine and moving.
THE ALCHEMY OF NOISE is set for an April 9, 2019 release via SHE WRITES PRESS, an award-winning hybrid publisher. A wide-ranging marketing and promotional campaign will be implemented in the months leading up to and through the launch; if you’d be interested in being an advance reader or part of a “street team,” be sure to drop a message below.
Publishing updates will be posted here and on social media… more to come!
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