As Lie Is To Grin
It’s rare when a novel changes my way of seeing, even more so when it’s a first novel by an author still in his twenties. Simeon Marsalis’s As Lie Is to Grin is not a satire meant to teach us lessons, nor a statement of hope or despair, but something more visionary—a portrait of a young man’s unraveling, a depiction of how race shapes and deforms us, a coming-of-age story that is also a confrontation with American history and amnesia. The book achieves more in its brief span than most books do at three times the length. — Zachary Lazar, author of I Pity the Poor Immigrant
Marsalis’s slim, ambitious debut tackles loss and racial identity… (he) incisively comments on a wide range of ideas, from authenticity to architecture. — Publishers Weekly
In this haunting tale of one young man’s search for himself, Simeon Marsalis shuffles and refigures time so that our troubled history no longer hides in plain sight. This is superb writing that feels ceremonious in its wisdom and inexhaustible in its offerings. — Major Jackson, author of Roll Deep
A sophisticated and complex work, this debut reconsiders the coming-of-age story for the twenty-first century. — Foreword Reviews (starred review)
In his debut novel, Simeon Marsalis crafts a trippy and transgressive tale that bends the recognizable world in startling ways to broaden our understanding of what it means to be young, gifted, and black in America today. Simeon, I salute you. Your time to shine. — Jeffery Renard Allen, author of Song of the Shank and Rails Under My Back
A black student at the University of Vermont grapples with his own fraught history and identity, and that of his community and country, in a charged and intellectually expansive debut. — Claire Fallon, The Huffington Post
Marsalis’ deep and creative coming-of-age tale confronts race and omitted history. An exciting, thought-provoking debut. ― Booklist
This affecting and unaffected story is for all readers. ― Library Journal
A startling and thought-provoking debut…it is the mark of a novelist to watch. “As Lie Is to Grin” is also one of those great novels of New York, the city observed, as the protagonist contemplates the architecture around him. One thing is clear — Simeon Marsalis is forming his identity as a writer, unafraid and persevering. — New Orleans Advocate
As Lie Is to Grin is an extraordinarily sophisticated first novel, with an innovative structure involving a perpetually surprising cascade of harmony and dissonance. It’s also an unusually subtle and sensitive take on our twenty-first-century racial crisis, particularly as it plays out on campus. Simeon Marsalis is a writer to watch for many more reasons than that, but I will say that every college student in America today needs to read this book, and probably most of the professors. ― Madison Smartt Bell, author of the Haitian Revolution trilogy, beginning with All Souls’ Rising
David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis’s singular and emotionally powerful first novel, is a freshman at the University of Vermont who is struggling to define himself against the white backdrop of his school. He is also mourning the loss of his New York girlfriend, Melody, whose grandfather’s alma mater he has chosen to attend. When David met Melody, he told her he lived with his drug-addicted single mother in Harlem, a more intriguing story than his own. This lie haunts and almost unhinges him as he attempts to find his true voice and identity.
On campus in Vermont, David imagines encounters with a student from the past who might represent either Melody’s grandfather or Jean Toomer, the author of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance novel Cane (1923). He becomes obsessed with the varieties of American architecture “upon land that was stolen,” and with the university’s past and attitudes as recorded in its newspaper, The Cynic. And he is frustrated with the way the Internet and libraries are curated, making it difficult to find the information he needs to make connections between the university’s history, African American history, and his own life.
In New York, the previous year, Melody confides a shocking secret about her grandfather’s student days at the University of Vermont. When she and her father collude with the intent to meet David’s mother in Harlem—craving what they consider an authentic experience of the black world—their plan ends explosively.
The title is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem We Wear the Mask (1896): “We wear the mask that grins and lies . . .”
- Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize