In his 2016 debut, “Insurrections,” Rion Amilcar Scott introduces readers to the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, founded after a successful slave uprising in the early 1800s. While the location is important to these stories, it mainly functions as a setting.
With his new collection, “The World Doesn’t Require You,” Scott has delved into the viscera of Cross River, exploring its passions and darkest secrets. These 11 genre-spanning stories, plus an intricate novella, take more risks both stylistically and thematically, revealing the Riverbabies’ distinctive dialects, demons, myths and dreams.
Several characters evolve throughout the volume, including David Sherman, the thirteenth — and last — child of God (who lived, we are told, in Cross River during his second-coming). When we first encounter David, he’s questioning his beliefs and trying to find his musical voice. In his second story, he has found that “Cross River sound” he was seeking and become, essentially, a cult leader.
The automaton called Jim first appears in the spectacular short parable “The Electric Joy of Service,” where his creator plots to sell robots, based on caricatures of ethnic stereotypes, as slaves. Jim returns twice, first in “Mercury in Retrograde,” where he and the Master reanimate a teenage girl a la Frankenstein’s Monster, and again in the final short story, as a runaway slave during a drug-fueled re-enactment of the Underground Railroad.
The concluding novella is narrated by a sham professor living in an underground morgue, evoking Ralph Ellison. Scott uses not just prose passages, but emails, diary entries, academic essays, even a slide presentation, to initiate a wide-ranging, nuanced discussion of scholastic integrity, loneliness, love, toxic masculinity, gender norms, and appropriation of other‘s stories.
Cross River is a fascinating and fantastical creation, and hopefully, Scott has more of its stories to tell.