Updated: Jan 27, 2019
This book review was originally published in our city's newspaper on July 2, 2015. It is no less relevant now than it was then.
In light of the recent and historic Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage in every state, the book I want to talk about this week is Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris. One of my best friends and someone I consider family, Kraig, recommended it to me when I was first asked to participate in this literary blog. Kraig has a Nook that he rarely uses (for shame), and I promised I would download it the very next day, but he handed me his actual hardcopy of Invisible Life. In my own moment of shame, I realized it has been almost a year since I’ve read a novel where I was able to physically turn a page, smell the paper, and use a bookmark. I won’t allow myself go for that long again. I had missed it.
The novel follows a young, black man named Raymond Tyler. When we meet him he is attending law school, has a long-time girlfriend, and is about to begin a successful career in Manhattan. It starts out as any other coming of age novel that we’ve all read at one point or another. However we quickly learn that Raymond is struggling with his sexuality. As mentioned, he has a girlfriend he loves very much, but he is also attracted to men.
Throughout the novel we have a front seat view into Raymond’s relationships with his two best friends JJ and Kyle, into his first relationship with a man with whom he falls in love, Kelvin, and his daily struggle with being a black man at a mostly white law firm. We follow the ups and downs of his family becoming aware of his sexuality and how they (and Raymond himself) struggle with the shame of not being “normal”. This book provides its readers with an insight you are not going to get anywhere else.
E. Lynn Harris fought to get his work out there and Invisible Life was first self-published in 1991. After being rejected by multiple publishers, he sold copies of the book out of the back of his car. Eventually Doubleday picked it up in 1994 and Harris went on to publish ten best sellers, including two sequels to Invisible Life. They are Just As I Am and Abide With Me.
I am very lucky to have close friends of all races and sexual orientation and while I will never know what it’s like to be gay, or black, or anyone other than myself, through the work of E. Lynn Harris a new understanding and appreciation for what my friends have gone through (and continue to go through) was presented to me. Regardless of who you are inside or out, pick up this book and its subsequent titles.
I’m incredibly grateful for the book recommendation and for my valued friendship with “my Kraig” who continues to be an inspiration, a teacher, and a ray of sunshine in a thousand ways. Thank you.
November 2018 update: E. Lynn Harris passed away in 2009 though I did not mention that in my original review. His NYT obituary is still available online for those who wish to read it. His death was a great loss to black and gay authors, and because of his work, there are many more to discover. I will continue to write about black authors, gay authors, etc. and you should absolutely read them. And yes, Kraig is still my ray of sunshine to this day.