This book, y’all. Razorblade Tears broke my heart and kept me on the edge of my seat in equal measures. It’s a superb piece of crime fiction with powerful messages about racism, sexuality, and accepting your loved ones for who they are, no matter how different they might be, before you run out of chances. It’s about vengeance and justice and learning that you can still grow even when you’ve been set in your ways for longer than you can remember. It’s about family, both that which you’re born into and that which you build for yourself along the way. It’s about grief and how, sometimes, you don’t even feel like you deserve to feel it. Above all, this is a story that felt honest and real and true at its core, despite being a work of fiction.
“Tears ran from his eyes and stung his cheeks. Tears for his son. Tears for his wife. Tears for the little girl they had to raise. Tears for who they were and what they all had lost. Each drop felt like it was slicing his face open like a razorblade.”
This is the story of Ike and Buddy Lee, two men who on the surface couldn’t seem more different. Ike is a middle-class small business owner, married with a lovely house in the suburbs. Buddy Lee is “between jobs,” living in a rundown trailer and subsisting mainly on alcohol. Ike is black, and Buddy Lee is redneck white. They have two things in common: both are ex-cons, and their sons Isiah and Derek are married to each other. Neither man accepts their son’s sexuality, and both have a very strained relationship with their child until the unthinkable happens. Both young men are brutally murdered in their home, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter, unanswered questions, and bitter, regretful grief in their fathers. The book opens at their funeral, which marks the first time Ike and Buddy Lee have ever spoken. Both are deeply regretful of how they had treated their sons, and both are filled with fury over the murder. When the cops have pretty much let the case go cold after a couple of months, Buddy Lee and Ike take the solving of the murder and avenging their sons’ deaths into their own hands.
“It didn’t seem fair for a man to morn someone, abundantly, that he had loved, so miserly.”
Cosby’s work has been classified as violent Southern noir, and that feels exactly right. It captures the feel of the American South superbly, balancing the good and the bad without making us a caricature of ourselves. Razorblade Tears was gritty and dark but ultimately redemptive. The growth of Ike and Buddy Lee over the course of the novel was beautiful to watch. The ways in which they came to terms with their own failings as fathers, and their deep desire to find some way to show the boys that they loved them and accepted them and would have gone to any lengths to apologize for how they treated them in life, was profoundly moving. I also really loved how their relationship shifted from a grudging partnership to a genuine friendship over the course of the novel.
“Folks like to talk about revenge like it’s a righteous thing but it’s just hate in a nicer suit…”
The characters and their inner struggles were absolutely my favorite element of the novel. However, there wasn’t a single way in which Cosby fumbled this book. The aforementioned setting was well handled. The mystery element was expertly balanced, managing to be both impossible to guess and totally sensible once revealed. We learned at the same rate as the main characters, which I loved. The explorations of racism, sexuality, and homophobia were beautifully multifaceted. The external conflicts, between Ike and Buddy Lee and those who had been involved in the murders of their sons, were believable brutal. The prose was poetic when it needed to be, and disappeared into the narrative when that best served the plot. And the pacing was perfect for the story.
“The tears came again. They poured from his eyes and ran over his cheeks. Flowed down to the stubble of his chin.
This time did didn’t feel so much like razorblades. They felt like the long-awaited answer to a mournful prayer for rain.”
Razorblade Tears is such a powerful story, and it’s exceptionally well told. It’s moving, thought-provoking, and propulsive, which is a difficult balance to strike. Honestly, there’s nothing about it that I would change. Sensitive readers should be aware of the graphic violence, and might need to pass on this. But if you have a strong stomach and want to be challenged while also experiencing a story that is almost impossible to put down, you should definitely read Razorblade Tears.
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