Shine by Donnelle McGee: A Review

What’s up with the name Shine? 

His eyes, man. You never seen his eyes?”

Shine by Donnelle McGee is the story of Bray “Shine” Philips, a street hustler with a voice that immediately draws the reader into his world. A new release from Sibling Rivalry Press, McGee’s story defies categorization: is it a novella, an extra-long short story, a little of both? However you label it, this work of fiction is affecting and original in its approach.
The short fragmented sections of the narrative – the longest at two and half pages, the shortest at one word – vary in tone, length and voice. One section may be Bray’s internal dialogue and the next a poem written by his ailing mother. All sections work cohesively to create a picture of not only the main character, but the other planets orbiting around him in his universe.

It is remarkable in that, despite its economy of language and lack of extensive exposition, the reader connects with each character well, from Bray himself to a detective named Armstrong who circles the edges of the drama. For all of its compression, it covers a sweeping emotional landscape of identity, sex, disappointment, confusion, illness, empowerment, discovery, and love. When I finished reading, I was left with the feeling that Shine’s story is both uniquely his and a part of the larger human narrative.

I admired McGee’s ability to convey all of this in these short (mostly paragraph length) segments of chapters. There are seventy-nine of them, but the book is easily read in one sitting and pulls the reader forward with cryptic pieces of conversations, tight descriptions, and frequent point-of-view changes.

McGee’s stance of writing with an observer’s indifference, of letting the circumstances tell the story, heightened the impact of the emotion for me. Although there were moments toward the beginning that were disorienting – I wasn’t exactly sure who was who or who was talking- those quickly passed and changed to a need to find out the fates of these characters.

If you are frustrated that I am talking around the plot or not giving more of Bray’s story, all I can say is that it would do the book a disservice – McGee’s structure and storytelling method are so different and engaging that to tell you more would ruin your reading experience. And that is something I don’t want to do.


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