cover image Wings of Red

Wings of Red

James W. Jennings. Counterpoint, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-59376-709-9

Jennings debuts with a gritty yet hopeful novel centered on June Papers, a 28-year-old Black man and aspiring writer in New York City. The story kicks off with June playing dice with his two roommates and godbrother, Hollywood, hoping to win enough to make his overdue rent. He has an MFA, but his felony record for fraud and theft makes it hard for him to secure gainful employment and stable housing. The narrative takes the form of his journal, in which he records daily interactions with friends, part-time shifts as a substitute teacher at a public school, and a visit with family on Martha’s Vineyard. Though June makes some questionable decisions, like stealing a suit and causing his bank account to overdraft by staying at a hotel, he sincerely believes he’s doing his best to get by. June’s voice will hook readers from the jump with its mix of cheekiness and sincerity, such as in his translations of other characters’ slang for readers not in the know (a gig done for “clean” money means it’s legal), and in his words of wisdom for young people (“I realize that, to my younger readers, gambling for food and transportation is degenerate activity. I don’t condone it”). Jennings shows promise. (Nov.)