cover image Open Water

Open Water

Caleb Azumah Nelson. Black Cat, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5794-2

Nelson’s breathtaking lyrical debut employs a love story to explore systemic racism and the cultural impact of Black artists. Set primarily in London and told in second person, the novel follows a young unnamed Black photographer as he forges an artistic working relationship with a friend’s ex. She, also Black and unnamed, is a university student and dancer, and the two are inseparable as they work together on a photography project to document the city’s Black residents. Over time, the platonic relationship turns romantic, yet he keeps a distance from her while processing memories of racist encounters with police and witnessing those of others (“You feel anger, a hysteria... but your vision is clear, an unfrosted window, you see the woman with the policeman’s knee on her back not being seen”). While seeing If Beale Street Could Talk together, he reflects on each character’s “manifestation of love,” but doesn’t share his feelings with her. As the two bounce from party to party and restaurant to restaurant, Nelson astutely locates the importance of Black cinema, music, and literature in their lives while capturing the terror brought on by police brutality and the expectations of young Black men to bottle up their emotions. The result is consistently powerful. Agent: Seren Adams, United Agents. (Apr.)