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As Lie Is to Grin

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  136 ratings  ·  30 reviews
David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis's singular 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 ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Catapult (first published October 1st 2017)
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Average rating 3.33  · 
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 ·  136 ratings  ·  30 reviews

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Lark Benobi
A beautifully told, relentlessly uncompromising, frequently funny and ultimately unsettling story about a young Black man trying to define his own selfhood while at the same time immersing himself in a white-white culture.

The storytelling is fragmentary and at times frustratingly oblique. It reminded me somewhat of Tom McCarthy's Remainder, which is saying something, because McCarthy's novel is written from the perspective of a man with severe brain damage who is trying and failing to make
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
A convoluted mix of dreams, visions, history, relationships and lies. The story comes off as incoherent and although I think the author was swinging for the fences with an over reaching prose unfortunately he missed. The story of David in a interracial relationship before he goes off to the University of Vermont, is scattered with holes, mostly unfolded. The course of the novel is multidirectional, but the feel is directionless leading to a lack of clarity. So what we get is some good, at times ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I admit, it took me quite a while to get into this story. A big part of it was the format. I was at least fifty pages in before I realized that some of the story was interspersed with the narrator's failed attempt at a novel. My ARC of this book (provided to me by the publisher via a Shelf Awareness giveaway) was only 150, so that's a long time to find footing in a story. Still, I enjoyed the journey to the end so much, I went back and read the whole thing a second time, and that's where I found ...more
Kevin Catalano
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such an original, funny-yet-heavy, inventive and dreamy debut exhibiting serious talent from Mr. Marsalis. As Lie Is to Grin has all the intellectual charm of so many other great short novels that came before it, and yet, I can't say that I've ever read anything like it.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-review
A strange short novel, not quite plotless but a plot that is almost secondary to the narrator’s exploration of race, cultural appropriation, passing, and the performance (or not) of “blackness”. There are many trans-fictional elements involving the architecture of the University of Vermont and of Harlem (this is a very “New York” novel, if you know your way around the metropolitan area). If you haven’t read Jean Toomer’s Cane, that is a major touch point for the narrator and you should read it ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
As Lie Is to Grin reads like a creative writing student's work; in other words, there is a lot of promise in the author and flashes of brilliance, but overall the story lacks in coherence, character development, and plot.

Simply put, the narrator (David) is trying, as they say, to "find himself," and he struggles to navigate a world where he doesn't quite fit in. He is partly to blame for this due to his deceptions of others and (it seems to be implied) his own self-deceptions; partly, his
Elliott Turner
Nov 13, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars - read this! Very short but powerful. A young African-American man dreams of being a writer and, growing up in NYC, gets in a relationship with a white woman named Melody that is the daughter of a famous artist. Part of David's allure to Melody is the trappings of wealth and comfort - her dad gives him an iPhone (in 2009), they have an extra apartment with a spare key, etc.

Still, David feels torn about his personal identity and the tarnished history of America - he focuses on
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I was not enamoured with this first novel. The jacket descriptor is far different than what tale is told in the book. The main character, David, was frustrating. I get that he was trying to find himself as a young, black man but it also seemed like the author (a black man himself) played to typical stereotypes of young, black men, which was unfortunate. As I continued to read the novel, I became more frustrated at David because he was not very communicative, made bad attempts at introspection, ...more
Adam Cornish
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
It sometimes feels like writers are trying to hard to be "good" writers. That the use of metaphor and symbolism go beyond prose and instead interfere with the message/story being imparted.

Of course, this is merely my opinion, and I am not the most educated for classical fiction.

All of this said, this was a very intriguing book, one in which I kept repeating the title to myself throughout the day and while in the middle of sections.

"As Lie is to Grin" bounces through a young man's life as he
Nov 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I want to give this 3.5 stars.

I read this in a single sitting. The relationship between David and his mother Doris were my favorite parts of the book. I wanted to hear more dialogue between the two of them and to learn more about the protagonist's childhood. The author is talented at being able to speak volumes by utilizing the space of what isn't said between two characters.

Parts of the novel can feel disjointed or not fully fleshed out. We don't spend too much time in any one place, with any
Marianne Villanueva
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novel
Well written, has a memoir-like feel, reinforced by section headings (actual dates)

Love, most of all, the fact that the narrator is taking a course guaranteed to make him a novelist but never (or hardly ever) attends class; and the fact that he takes the reader on a walking tour of New York City.

Did you know that Central Park was built over the site of the first free black settlement in the country, primarily as an act of racism? To obliterate all trace of this community?

The narrator, himself,
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Well, I should admit that I didn’t finish this one, even though it’s only 150 pages. On Christmas Day, I got to pg 72 and decided it’s been a little too much effort. I loved the narrator’s voice, but there’s not much plot, and I couldn’t tell where this was going. I will compliment the author—I’ve known of a number of white stoner novels, and this is the first Black one I’ve encountered. I’m no stoner, so maybe that’s why I didn’t feel pulled in. I might give this one a try again next year; I ...more
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh. My. This. Book. I was honestly surprised this book didn't win the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize as it was by far my favorite book of the year, if not one of my favorite reads ever. Such a searing, creative, and insightful examination of modern American society and culture. I can't wait to read more of Marsalis's work - a writer to watch on what will surely be an impressive rise.
Gayla Bassham
Mar 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads, fiction
I can see why this made the First Novel longlist; it is inventive and clever and stylish. It's also a bit meander-y and sometimes hard to follow. And I found the protagonist somewhat more annoying than I think I was intended to.
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
The writing was a bit stuffy for my taste. Although I did enjoy some of the visual descriptions, it didn’t feel like there was enough plot to hold it all together. It was an ambitious novel that just didn’t work for me.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
I didn't like the writing which made the story so disjointed and vague to me. It could be that the main character's anxious and a bit lost energy made the book's energy not very good for me as a reader. All in all, this one is not for me.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I’ve read this year!
Joe Kell
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jamie Olson
Apr 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
I’m having a difficult time seeing how the pieces of this book are connected. I would have enjoyed the story with Melody just fine, but the other pieces ruined that.
Ivy Pittman-Outen
Jan 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Well it took me a while to get an understanding as to where this story was headed. Interesting approach, but left me wondering what was left out if it.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own-a-copy
I couldn’t follow any semblance of a plot.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 //
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
It was a good read, a high three stars. Marsalis has a lot of good writing ahead and will only get better.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Interesting ideas and I love the link with Jean Toomer throughout the book. However, the story just never really comes together for me. A debut novel. I’m excited to see what comes next.
Laura Valentine
Oct 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Really more a series of essay ideas woven into a novella, none really making a ton of sense as a whole.
Thing Two
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Congratulations to Simeon! Beautiful writing. A little complicated to read, but would make an excellent re-read. Pay close attention, because the narration jumps from story to the story within, the one the protagonist is writing.
Danny Olda
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Not an easy read. But if you've read most of the first act (the book is split into four) it's worth finishing the book. Though that first act is a challenging read, and frankly not enjoyable, I realized near the end of this book that that was because it so effectively conveys the narrator's depression. He doesn't say he's depressed, he doesn't describe his depression, he just is and the novels gets that across almost too effectively. The remainder of the novel sets the context for that ...more
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I keep trying to write a review for this book but feel I won't really capture the mother/aunt Doris character until I read Toomer's Cane and then reread this book. It is an enjoyable read that is really not hard to follow so long as you pay attention to the dates and text shifts/chapter headings.
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Oct 13, 2018
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