[REVIEW] Forty Acres, by Dwayne Alexander Smith

A Black woman's hand(my hand) holds a Kindle displaying the black and white cover of Forty Acres in front of a freshly chopped woodpile, complete with axe.

(Buy this on Bookshop)

I had to think long and hard about what to say about this book and to be honest, I’m still not sure.

Let’s start with the premise. (Warning: I’m going all in with the spoilers for this one.) Martin Grey is an up-and-coming, black and bougie New York attorney. When he wins a case against a hotshot celebrity lawyer he finds himself invited to hobnob with some of the best of the Black and wealthy set. While drinking whiskey, puffing Cuban cigars, and getting pointers on how to handle the money and fame sure to come his way he’s invited to a rafting weekend, which turns out to have sinister intentions. Under the direction of the mysterious “philosopher” Dr. Kasim–a strange hotep-ish character mashup who reminded me at times of of Dr. Sebi and Lord Jamar–a group of rich, talented Black men are annually invited to live out a complicated, brutal revenge fantasy on a secret resort plantation where the descendants of white slave owners are held as slaves themselves and every Black man must be called master.

This is where I run out of intelligent things to say that aren’t vaguely horrified. The premise is so wild that I turned the pages just to see what else the author had come up with but the whole thing made me extremely uncomfortable. Even though Grey turns out to be the only sane man in his group and plays double agent to free Kasim’s captives, the descriptions of revenge-based brutality are pretty graphic and honestly–I’m not sure why they’re there. I don’t know a single Black person who’s wished for white people to be brutalized the way we were–the general cultural feeling is that we wish it hadn’t happened and want to heal the damage. The premise of this book is so weirdly antithetical to what I and most people truly believe will heal Black communities that I just don’t get the point. If you want a take on reverse slavery, Steven Barnes did a much better job in his meticulously world-built alternate history Lion’s Blood, with a much more purposeful story. As a thriller, the premise could have worked but the execution is too on-the-nose to have much of a thrill to it, in my opinion.

Besides that, the explicit nature of the book doesn’t mean that the writing is good. The characters are the sorts of bland brand-name obsessed caricatures of Black success you often see in urban fiction and a lot of the plot doesn’t really make sense outside of shock value. I read this in a constant haze of “WhaaAat?”, but I don’t think I could recommend this to anyone.

I don’t even know what to rate this, but I felt like I needed to be re-emancipated once I turned the last page. Travel these Forty Acres at your own risk.

(So…this one was a dud, fellow readers. If you want to check out some books by Black authors that deal with our struggles throughout American history, check out this booklist on the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Please don’t forget–this blog is a labor of love, but we do have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any clicks and purchases you make from here will result in a commission being paid. Peace!)

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