Sunday 20 October 2019



A compelling and timely debut novel from an assured new voice: Three-Fifths is about a biracial black man, passing for white, who is forced to confront the lies of his past while facing the truth of his present when his best friend, just released from prison, involves him in a hate crime.

Pittsburgh, 1995. The son of a black father he’s never known, and a white mother he sometimes wishes he didn’t, twenty-two year-old Bobby Saraceno has passed for white his entire life. Raised by his bigoted maternal grandfather, Bobby has hidden the truth about his identity from everyone, even his best friend and fellow comic-book geek, Aaron, who has just returned home from prison a newly radicalized white supremacist. Bobby’s disparate worlds crash when, during the night of their reunion, Bobby witnesses Aaron mercilessly assault a young black man with a brick. Fearing for his safety and his freedom, Bobby must keep the secret of his mixed race from Aaron and conceal his unwitting involvement in the crime from the police. But Bobby’s delicate house of cards crumbles when his father enters his life after more than twenty years, forcing his past to collide with his present.

Three-Fifths is a story of secrets, identity, violence and obsession with a tragic conclusion that leaves all involved questioning the measure of a man, and was inspired by the author’s own experiences with identity as a biracial man during his time as a student in Pittsburgh amidst the simmering racial tension produced by the L.A. Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-nineties.

A hard-hitting novel regarding ....... identity, denial, acceptance, friendship, family, separation, loss, racism, alcoholism, upbringing, insecurity, marital break-up, working class struggles, low paying employment, money worries, addiction, prison, belonging, confrontation, a violent act, fear, a chance meeting, an unexpected re-union, a glimmer of hope, a light extinguished.

It would be difficult to say that this was a book I enjoyed. It would be hard to take pleasure from reading about Bobby's life, his relationship with his mother, Isabel and Aaron his only real friend; the inner conflict he has regarding how he presents and identifies racially, drawn sharper into focus with his complicity in a racial attack by Aaron and the re-appearance of his black father into his life.

In addition to Bobby's story, we get a glimpse of his mother's struggles, her battles with the bottle, her failings and broken promises, her past and her pregnancy, her relationship with Bobby's father, her insecurities, her life with Bobby and her racist father, blown apart by her revelation about Bobby's father. We also have some focus on Robert, Bobby's father. He's a doctor and he's still grieving the recent break-up of his marriage after the loss of an unborn child. He's in ignorance of the fact that he has a grown-up son, until a revelation by Isabel informs him of the fact.

Three-Fifths I found to be incredibly powerful and moving. You would need a heart of stone not to be affected by Bobby's life story and his struggles to accept his own self for who he is. No happy ending for anyone concerned here.

Characters, plot/story line, pacing, style of writing, setting - O.J. Simpson's trial as a back drop to events, length, outcome - all plusses.

4.5 from 5

Three-Fifths is John Vercher's debut novel. I'll be interested to see what he comes up with next.

Read - October, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 176
Source - Net Galley, courtesy of Agora an imprint of Polis Books
Format - ePub read on laptop


  1. This does sound very powerful, Col. And it does something I always appreciate: it takes those large, very difficult questions and issues, and brings them to the very human level. I think that makes stories like this one all the stronger.

  2. Another one that sounds really very good. Off to the library catalogue I trek . . .

    1. Finger crossed. It's a fairly recent book, so maybe not there just yet? Does your library system spend a lot on books? I think they're trying to do away with them over here.

  3. Sounds like some pretty tough stuff here, Col. But you sparked my interest and I will check it out.

    1. Elgin, it runs a lot deeper than just a tale of a violent act and the aftermath.