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A Visitation of Spirits

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  532 ratings  ·  50 reviews
"Marks the debut of a very gifted writer.... Kenan speaks eloquently and with a great deal of courage."--Gloria Naylor

Randall Kenan's daring and innovative first novel weaves a vivid and horrific tale through the generations of a black Southern family.

Sixteen-year old Horace Cross is plagued by issues that hover in his impressionable spirit and take shape in his mind as lo
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 25th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1989)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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Oct 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to jo by: Qiana Whitted
this book is so ridiculously good, i had to check and check again that this author has in fact written only one novel, and no fiction at all (at least in book form) since 1993. NINETEENNINETYTHREE???? what are you doing, randall kenan? can you pleasepleaseplease write us another novel?

what flows in the arteries of this magnificent mixture of narrative, hallucination/visitation, snippets of playwrightery, first-and-third-person chapters, old stories and present stories -- what keeps it alive and
Raul Bimenyimana
Truthfully, although I'm marking this as read, I only read 40% of this book. Certainly one of those books I personally wish I liked more than I did. I wanted to read this after reading Randall Kenan's wonderful story Wash Me.

I liked the fact that this story had a Black Southern gay teenager as the protagonist, I wish I could have pushed harder with the story, but I noticed I was pushing hard to like the story which is often an indicator that I should leave the book and hopefully return to it whe
Eric Aiello
Jan 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Goodreads seriously needs to consider putting in a rating system broken down into half-stars. I feel bad giving this only 3, but I don't feel satisfied enough to give it four. So, for the record, this gets 3 and one half stars from me!

Horace's story was fan-freaking-tastic. I was very invested in his break-down and his horror filled night. James Greene's narrative was also pretty interesting. Kenan has an uncanny ability to grotesquely and vividly describe the killings of things. In fact, some o
Timothy Urges
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Challenging and moving postmodernism.
Two men are haunted by identity and the lack thereof.
David Carr
Sep 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
It may be a notable artifact of its time and a significant step in its author's development, but I found this to be an immature and confused book. It uses hallucinatory passages to review the past, slips in and out of reality, and varies so wildly between coherence and an overboard striving for lyricism that I was annoyed throughout. The problem for me: I have to talk about this book twice to library audiences in the next couple of weeks, so I will talk about the extremes, the constraints and di ...more
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinatingly complex novel that explores the experience of adolescence in the rural south as an individual who is both black and queer. Kenan shows us how the the tension of religious and ethic expectations for behavior confront the struggles of individual difference--difference coded as "wrong." The novel is at once haunting, frightening, poignant and important. "A Visitation of Spirits" is a novel of troubled youth, of sexual awakening, of powerlessness, and of communal failure. It ...more
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I just finished re-reading this magical, heart-quickening, darkly erotic novel. I'm so in awe of Kenan's talent, courage and language. I wish him millions of readers all over the world for centuries to come. ...more
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I had not, sadly, heard of Randall Kenan until I read his obituary in the New York Times. I bought this book as my first foray into his work, and on the strength of just the first few pages I also bought his short story collection, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. The voice(s) of this novel are staggering; I was fully absorbed from the first page and had trouble putting the book down until I reached the end. The characters are portrayed with all their flaws and strengths, and one of the central imp ...more
Christopher Alonso
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq
I'd had this book on my to-read list for some time and regrettably started it after Randall Kenan's passing. This is the kind of book I wish I'd been taught in a college course, blending gothic and magical realist elements. Queer in form and everything's a symbol. I'm excited to read Kenan's body of work. ...more
Will Ginn
Jun 26, 2017 rated it liked it
A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan is a work of contemporary southern literature that focuses on the the current African American experience in a small town in North Carolina across four generations. The Cross family, as their surname seems to conspicuously invoke, are steeped in the rhythm and rituals of the southern locale: they attend church every Sunday, where they are mainstay leaders of the congregation, and this institution functions as the animating spoke around which the family re ...more
paulA neves
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
It is always an accomplishment when a writer completes a novel, never mind publishes one. Anyone who does the former gets immediate points, but doing the latter doesn’t mean it’s a great novel or even a very good one. Randall Kenan’s first novel, 1989’s A Visitation of Spirits, is neither great nor very good, but it is a notable entry in post- Alice Walker and Toni Morrison African American, particularly Gen X African American, fiction. Kenan could very well find his niche somewhere between thes ...more
Anna C
Aug 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbtq
Funny story regarding this book. Several years ago, I was invited to a writing scholarship contest at college in North Carolina. I was thrilled (the college was one of my top choices) and agreed. The weekend I was there, Randall Kenan was going to present on "A Visitation of Spirits," so they sent me a free copy of the novel. A few weeks later, I did the math and realized that since I would have to buy my own plane ticket, I would lose money even if I won the scholarship. I backed out of the wee ...more
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I initially checked out this book because it was written by one of my former creative writing professor, and I was curious to read something he’d written. This book is set in the fictional town of Tims Creek, North Carolina, where he has set his other fictional stories.
A Visitation of Spirits tells the story of Horace Cross, a “16-year-old descendant of slaves and deacons of the church,” who wants to escape his life by transforming into a bird. He is gay, but he has been raised to believe that h
Katie Winkler
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read in a long time. Funny, frightening, insightful, nostalgic--a picture of life in North Carolina in the 80's that despite a few cultural differences is not so unlike my own childhood growing up in, for the most part, East Central Alabama. I bought Randal Kenan's debut novel when I went to a North Carolina Writers' Network conference a while ago, but just got around to reading his book. Kenan was the keynote speaker at the conference, and I was so impressed with him, that I ...more
Jan 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: southern-lit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Horace is a young black man in rural North Carolina: brilliant, the hope of his family and school. But Horace is so distraught with himself (exactly why he feels this way takes a while for the book to reveal) that he attempts a magic spell to transform into a bird, so that he won't have to live a human life. Unfortunately, he instead summons a demon which takes him over and forces him to do various weird and terrible things. Or maybe he has a mental break that he interprets as a demon; the book ...more
Geoffrey Bateman
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cory Thomas
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Debut novel from Kenan. Experimental choices--use of stage directions for dialogue, for example--enhanced the narrative without distracting from the story. Plot centers on struggles of Horace & Jimmy, cousins from the small Southern town of Tim's Creek (also used by Kenan in his excellent "Let the Dead Bury Their Dead"). Horace faces emotional and literal demons, while Jimmy copes with losses and faith. Tangential plotline with Ruth and Ezekiel rambled, but still retained a degree of relevance t ...more
Israel Guerrero
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
i liked it - i made a family tree to help me out with the characters lineage and story - also there's lots of imagery and the description of Horace's room was a delight to read ...more
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Kenan's prose is frequently dazzling and the story provides an important and distinct experience outside of the traditional southern narrative. It was Kenan's first novel and there is undeniable brilliance and risk-taking. I didn't really get into the structural affinity with Dickens's Christmas Carol or perhaps I just didn't understand it. I was glad to spend some time with this voice from North Carolina (a state of which I am sadly quite ignorant). ...more
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I actually read this book years ago but it is definitely one of my favorites. It is beautifully written and I was amazed that this was his first novel. I don't understand why Randall Kenan is not on the level of a Toni Morrison for example. He's that good. ...more
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it
This was very Toni Morrison-esque. It switched narrators, even from first to third. It skipped through time. It even changed genres here and there. Parts were good, but I just didn't have concentration that it took to truly understand what was going on at each moment. I kept wanting a family tree to keep everyone straight. It would have been better if I had given more of a crap. ...more
Whitney West
Oct 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
If you enjoy reading complex hard to understand book then this is the book for you. The plot jumps around and its hard to keep up with who is talking throughout the book. The concept is interesting however, I was disappointed at the ending. I only read this book for a college class and I won't read it again unless I have to for another class. ...more
Ashley Lucas
Jul 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Kenan teaches at UNC and was raised in a small town in North Carolina, much like the one where he sets this novel. The novel has an interesting structure and some very poignant moments, but it wasn't quite as captivating as I'd hoped. ...more
Sanjay Varma
Nov 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned, novels
The narrative is opaque and non-linear, and therefore requires a huge investment of reader's attention, but the payoff is not good enough.

I do admire the author’s ambition to try different narrative techniques. The author has good ideas but can’t make them work.
Morgan Williams
Apr 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literaryfiction
A somewhat strange, but very successful and beautifully written book. This is Randall Kenan's first novel, but it is so well done that it is hard to tell. ...more
Sep 11, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is about a gay black kid living in the south who's pondering whether to kill himself, or everyone else. After I read this I had very intense dreams. ...more
Victoria Innes
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Haunting and beautiful, this book broke my heart!
Chelsea Hutchins
Oct 29, 2010 rated it liked it
A super intense read. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, but it makes you think. ...more
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Randall Kenan's first novel, A Visitation of Spirits was published by Grove Press in 1989; and a collection of stories, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, was published in 1992 by Harcourt, Brace. That collection was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was among The New York Times Notable Books of 1992. He is also th ...more

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