What if toxic pollutants traveled up the socioeconomic ladder rather than down it? A Black biochemist provides an answer in this wildly original novel of pollution, poison, and dark pleasure
In Atlanta, Kenny Bomar is a biochemist-turned-coffee-shop-owner in denial about his divorce and grieving his stillborn daughter. Chemicals killed their child, leaching from a type of plant the government is hiding in Black neighborhoods. Kenny’s coping mechanisms are likewise chemical and becoming more baroque—from daily injections of lethal snake venom to manufacturing designer drugs. As his grief turns corrosive, it taints every person he touches.
Black epidemiologists Retta and Ebonee are called to the scene when a mysterious black substance is found to have killed a high school girl. Investigating these “blackouts” sends the women down separate paths of blame and retribution as two seemingly disparate narratives converge in a cinematic conclusion.
Liquid Snakes is an immersive, white-knuckle ride with the spookiness of speculative fiction and the propulsion of binge-worthy shows like FX’s Atlanta and HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness. Transfiguring a whodunit plot into a labyrinthine reinterpretation of a crime procedural, Stephen Kearse offers an uncanny commentary on an alternative world, poisoned.
Kearse's latest (after In the Heat of the Light) is a dazzling pharmacological thriller that dances on the knife's edge of satire. The prologue sets the tone for the semi-speculative story to come, laying out the license agreement for a dangerous new app called EightBall in mind-numbing fine print. Nestled within are some strange and ominous warnings, however: "You do not need permission to be free, but you might need weapons." At Atlanta's Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy, high school student Valencia McCormick dies after ingesting a glowing black liquid, and Centers for Disease Control epidemiologists Ebonee McCollum and Retta Vickers are sent to determine if she is the latest victim of the city's suicide epidemic. They discover that the deaths are linked to a complex project of extermination, developed by Black biochemist Kenny Bomar and capitalized on by his friend Thurgood Houser. Euphemistically called blackouts, the deaths are caused by a toxic chemical Bomar designed to allow Black people the chance to choose their own death as a stand against racial discrimination. Written with incisive wit and studded with references to Black popular culture (Retta's college "foray into radicalism" included listening to musical group the Soulquarians) and troubling incidents from recent history, this entertains even as it deeply disturbs.