In Vercher’s Devil Is Fine (Celadon. June), a Black writer examines his complex relationship with his late son while struggling to publish his second novel on his own terms.

Your novel explores the difficulties that fathers and sons have communicating, and how that gets passed down through generations.

My protagonist struggles to respond to uncomfortable situations without falling back on sarcasm or inappropriate jokes. It can be frustrating, but I know so many people like that. The character feels very real to me, and it’s clear that he comes by his relationship with his son honestly, as a son of his own father.

Now that I have two children, my relationship with my parents has shifted, and not necessarily for the better. I’m constantly interrogating why that communication breaks down, even though it intrinsically doesn’t feel right not to have that sense of closeness. Why is it so hard for both sides? I don’t find myself faultless in my lack of communication with my family. The most comfortable way for me to explore the gap is through fiction.

Why did you decide to leave your narrator unnamed?

There’s a tradition in Black literature to leave the narrator unnamed—for example, the narrator in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. There’s an erasure of identity, an invisibility, when the speaker is left unnamed. If you can’t name yourself, no one else can. In this case, the narrator’s not just grappling with his racial identity, but also his identity as a father and an author.

Your novel looks head-on at racial diversity in publishing and academia, and the backlash to progress made after protests following George Floyd’s murder.

After the protests in 2020, there was moment where it seemed like there was finally going to be a racial reckoning. There were more openings for Black artists, and universities created diversity, equity, and inclusion committees. It seemed like we might finally be at a point where enough is enough. But then DEI committees started shutting down and the rise in book advances reversed. And now, there’s legislation and book bans removing Black stories from libraries. We need to talk about it, so I used that lens to amplify questions of identity in the novel.

The scenes at the former slave plantation inherited by the narrator often suggest the presence of the supernatural, but it’s not clear whether he’s simply imagining those moments.

As a reader, I love wondering, “Is this actually happening?” I don’t need everything explained, and I actually love when I’m left with a little doubt. I tell my students, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” If you feel like you have to spell it out, I don’t trust you as a writer, because you don’t trust me as a reader.