(Buy it HERE.)
Raymond Tyler Jr. is Black, middle-class, and upwardly mobile. He has a job at a hot law firm in NYC, a loving Southern family, a supportive friend group and a really nice apartment. He’s a catch on the dating market, and everyone wants to know when he’ll get married.
He’s also in the closet. It’s the early 90s, and Black American culture is abuzz with tales of the “down-low”– a descriptive term for Black men who date and marry women but have affairs with other men. Raymond struggles to accept himself and be accepted by others in a hostile world–and manages to fall in love a couple of times along the way.
(Side note: Do y’all remember when Oprah did a show about this every other week?)
Teenage me read this and somehow remembered it as a romance. It’s really not. This is actually a remarkably lonely story when seen through adult eyes–a tragedy about people struggling to connect with others and themselves without ever really being able to be honest. Living in the closet makes a person invisible in large segments of society, and the resulting tension ruins lives. The premise is great, but the story relies on some pretty hokey cliches and moralizing, to be honest. African-American fiction from the late 80’s and 90’s has such a distinctive style (think Waiting to Exhale or Sister, Sister), but here it hasn’t aged particularly well. Also, the way we speak about race and sexuality has evolved so drastically and so much for the better since 1991 that the book feels very dated.
Still, Invisible Life and the series of books it began were truly groundbreaking. The story of successful gay black men and their inner lives isn’t told often now and was virtually taboo then, especially when told by a Black gay author to the larger Black community. Harris really opened my teenage eyes and dispelled the stereotypes of gay men that I had learned (while implanting entirely new ones, lol)
3 stars and a Pride flag wave to Invisible Life.
(Happy Pride and thanks for reading, beautiful people. This blog contains affiliate links leading to Bookshop, and if you click and purchase anything from those links, I will earn a commission. Peace!)