‘Thump’ by Avraham Azrieli is a thought-provoking and entertaining novel about gender and racial stereotyping and prejudice. Thump, an Afro-American working in a predominately white business, thumps his female boss and any female client his boss sends his way. In return, she supports his career. When Thump asks his girlfriend to marry him, she asks him for a vow of exclusivity and he agrees, but when he says ‘no’ and ‘not any more’ to his boss, things start to unravel.
The more I reflect on it, the more wonderful the book seems. The author boldly raises a number of questions. At what point does exchanging sex for steps up the corporate ladder become sexual abuse? Can sex ever be truly consensual when one member holds power over the other? Can a woman rape a man? Does stereotyping encourage the negative behaviours they describe? Does the fact that someone is unaware that they’re being abused make it any the less abuse. These are just some of the issues we encounter in this story.
It’s heady stuff, and highly relevant to modern multicultural societies. What is truly wonderful about this book is that it explores these questions with a powerful mixture of clever scripting, humour and pathos.
I use the word scripting instead of dialogue or plotting because the style of the book has a movie feel; first in the use of an omniscient point of view that tells the story purely though the characters actions as viewed from outside. Never do we get inside a character’s head. We don’t feel their heart sink and so on; we know how they are feeling from the author’s description of their actions, posture, facial expressions and dialogue, just as it is when we watch a movie. I call it the matter of fact style, and its focus on the facts is very appropriate for a courtroom drama. Though some will miss the closeness we often feel with characters in a book, this remoteness removes the likelihood of any mushy sentimentality on our part and makes sure that we focus on the issues rather than any one character.
The other cinematic aspect was the way the courtroom scenes were structured with flashbacks for the witnesses’ stories. Instead of us hearing the characters tell their story, the author took us back to the actual scene where we lived it with them, and through their stories we pieced together what had happened to bring Thump from a fine young man with prospects to a virtual cripple ostracised by business society.
Sex as barter is a big issue in this book and the author handled the mechanics well, once using the viewpoint of a chauffeur as a way to describe a sex scene without being too explicit. It also gave a voyeuristic feel, hinting that other people, despite what they say in the courtroom, would likely have heard something to give them an inkling of what was going on, but like the chauffeur, and the rest of society, we walk away. The one scene that was explicit was shocking in its violence, perhaps particularly so because the woman was abusing the man.
I particularly enjoyed the lawyer’s handling of the court case, especially her way of cutting though people’s prudishness about sex by saying the kinds of things we might think but normally wouldn’t dare say out loud in public.
I highly recommend this book to all who love a thought-provoking story with great dialogue and clever, and often very funny, courtroom antics. 5 stars.