The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas Essay - Critical Essays

Reginald McKnight

The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas

At first glance, the seven stories collected in THE KIND OF LIGHT THAT SHINES ON TEXAS appear discrete and unrelated, so varied are they in style and form. Yet inherent within this collection is an overriding concern with the black American self—more specifically, with the black American male self: with its formation, its definition, its ruination.

Stylistically, McKnight’s stories move from the fablelike opening story, “The Homunculus: A Novel in One Chapter,” through a series of more realistic narratives, to the futuristic concluding tale, “Soul Food.” McKnight frequently places the storytelling responsibility upon a first-person voice, and just as frequently these voices tell their stories in a language that is sharp and colloquial and distinctive.

McKnight’s vision in his short fiction focuses upon the nature of the black American male and upon the forces that define black American male selfhood. Most of the central figures in these stories are young black American men—artists, drug dealers, military personnel—whose behavior in the present is inextricably linked to elements of their individual and their racial past: violence, subjugation, maternal dominance. They are men who challenge the stereotypes; they are paradoxical characters who smoke crack and read BRAVE NEW WORLD (“Roscoe in Hell”), who write story-length letters to friends they haven’t seen in years (“Quitting Smoking”), who join the Marines and express their very human fears in the action of very personal wars (“Peacetime”). Two of the most successful stories in this collection (the title story, and “Into Night”), though, deal with the childhood experiences, experiences which McKnight suggests are especially significant in the formation of the black adult character. What finally emerges from these stories is a difficult, troubling notion of what it means to be black and male in an increasingly multicultural America.