This is an odd 1947 novel written by Sinclair Lewis. He died a few years later and this is one of his last novels. At it’s heart, it’s a social novel that has a “point” but in addition to exploring the conceit of the novel it meanders a lot. I don’t usually say this, but this novel should be about half as long as it is.
The plot involves an American family of Scottish ancestry living a smallish, but establish town in the Midwest. The Kingsbloods are rich and quite established. The son and heir of the family, youngish, and very into banking, also gets very involved in family ancestry. The idea here is that he figures that if he were to trace his lineage to a noble line, this would only add to their illustriousness. Well, irony comes into play, and what he finds instead is that he has a small amount of African-American ancestry. This of course throws his whole world into disarray. Using the idea of the “one drop rule” and taking it to its natural extreme, he now feels that he must carry himself as a Black man, and exist within the rules of society set up for Black men. Well, it’s 1947 and in American, so society does not really treat Black men (spoiler alert) very well. So the novel then tracks Kingsblood navigates this new understanding (or rather, perception) of himself.
The novel is kind of an opposite of the novel Passing by Nella Larsen, and is more in line with George Schuyler’s novel Black No More (where a Black scientist invents a machine to chance black skin to white, flooding the market as it were — and is kind of stolen by Dr Seuss for The Sneetches). The novel is drenched with irony, is relatively artless, but also an interesting example of a white writer giving it a go to criticize American society for its purposeful stratification.