Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Seven top complex portraits of criminality in literature

Our Sister Who Will Not Die: Stories, Rebecca Bernard’s debut collection of stories, won the 2021 Non/Fiction prize from The Journal and was published by Ohio State’s Mad Creek Books in August 2022. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Wigleaf, Witness, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in Fiction from the University of North Texas and an MFA from Vanderbilt University. Her work received notable mention in the Best American Short Stories of 2018. She is an Assistant Professor in the English department at Angelo State University. She serves as a Fiction Editor for The Boiler.

At Lit Hub Bernard tagged seven of the best complex portraits of criminality in literature, including:
Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys

We can’t discuss portrayals of criminality without acknowledging that large swaths of the American population have been marked as criminal based purely on the color of their skin, absent of any wrongdoing. Mass incarceration and the over-policing of bodies of color and its reality as modern-day slavery, though not the focus of this list, must be part of the conversation. Whereas the other characters on this list are culpable for their crimes, many of the boys incarcerated at Whitehead’s Nickel Academy (based on the real-life Dozier school, a reform/juvenile detention center in Florida) are either innocent or simply young people placed in impossible situations and forced to deal with the side effects of poverty and institutional neglect. The novel follows Elwood, an academically thriving boy in his teens who is convicted for unwittingly riding in a stolen car on his way to attend early college course. Sent to Nickel Academy, we see his attempts to survive the harsh, brutal environment where he befriends another young man named Turner. The novel pushes us to consider what it means to be deemed criminal, and who are the true bad actors—the boys in the care of the facility or the guards and overseers who exploit them and brutalize them for economic gain or out of baseless cruelty.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Nickel Boys is among Zak Salih's eight books about childhood friendships throughout the years.

--Marshal Zeringue