Episode 45: The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr

Suzette Mayr

The Sleeping Car Porter brings to life an important part of Black history in North America, from the perspective of a queer man living in a culture that renders him invisible in two ways. Affecting, imaginative, and visceral enough that you’ll feel the rocking of the train, The Sleeping Car Porter is a stunning accomplishment.

Baxter’s name isn’t George. But it’s 1929, and Baxter is lucky enough, as a Black man, to have a job as a sleeping car porter on a train that crisscrosses the country. So when the passengers call him George, he has to just smile and nod and act invisible. What he really wants is to go to dentistry school, but he’ll have to save up a lot of nickel and dime tips to get there, so he puts up with “George.”

On this particular trip out west, the passengers are more unruly than usual, especially when the train is stalled for two extra days; their secrets start to leak out and blur with the sleep-deprivation hallucinations Baxter is having. When he finds a naughty postcard of two queer men, Baxter’s memories and longings are reawakened; keeping it puts his job in peril, but he can’t part with the postcard or his thoughts of Edwin Drew, Porter Instructor.”

In this, our 45th episode, the Spoilers are back with what they thought would be a frolicking, early summer show about Baxter, a Black Canadian aspiring dentist who works as a sleeping car porter on a cross-continent train in the late 1920s (surprise! it took a while to edit!). Paced like a marathoner in a Dodge Challenger, this novel is relentless in its depiction of racialized labor in a very close environment. Not all of us loved this book, but that always makes for an interesting conversation — and you will get nothing less here, even though you had to wait for three months. Anticipation makes things even better they say . . .

Mentioned in the Show

What the Spoilers are up to!

  • Crystal — Janelle Monae’s Lipstick Lover
  • Todd — S.A. Cosby, All the Sinners Bleed
  • Anita — Camilla Sosa Villada, Las Malas (Bad Girls)

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