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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Erasure" post-modern anger in the ghetto

Erasure: A Novel- Percival Everett
If you have read some of the book reviews of the blog, you should now by now I'm not much of a fan of post-modernist or vanguard tendencies that some critics/editorials try to sell as the "next best thing". No way. But I'm more than glad to find an exception. And in the case of this vitriolic  "Erasure", a great one!

Because Percival Everett's novel is quite a devastating read. Audacious and risky in its structure, allusive and bleak in his prose, sardonic and angry in what it wants to say. Merciless in the portray of hypocrisy in our society (particularly in the world of culture) but also able to include a moving look to a son trying to deal with the aging of her mother.

"Erasure" is a fierce kick in the b_ _ s to the sanctimonious, politically correct. Also to the "academia" of literature for its narrow definition of what's black literature and what blackness entails: an abuse of cliches, that are the argument among which the cultural establishment decides whether what book will be successful or not. It's all summarized in that sort of brutal coda that novel's protagonist, black writer Thelonious Ellison, Monk, systematically gets when his experimental (unreadable) novels are rejected: "It's not black enough".

Everett plays with prejudice shockingly, revealing our miseries. Monk's fathers were doctors, like his sister and brother. He was a brilliant Harvard student, he's not into hip-hop or rap or doesn't play basketball. And he writes about Euripides, so how can we consider him black enough? Our self-conscious writer will throw his frustrations and rage in a new novel. Vengeance is the word.

And we are invited to read that "novel inside the novel", an irate, presumably ironic in its aim to mock and reveal how pathetic are books like Juanita Mae Jenkins's best-seller, "We's Lives in Da Ghetto", unanimously celebrated for its "haunting verisimilitude" by critics. Under a pseudonym (and a further new impersonation of what a black ghetto writer should be), he offers a parody of a "ghetto novel", "Ma Pafology". In not even 100 pages Everett constructs a highly addictive tale of violence, crime, lack of hope and that sort of "ghetto fate", that works as a knock-out diatribe against the cliches on "black literature". But his idea will turn against him, on a ridiculous and threatening downward spiral.
"Erasure" also finds time to talk about family. Monk's isolation and frustration has, thanks to illness, disgrace and time, to be confronted with the "obligation" to help his mother. It's another kind of shock on the novel, adding complexity but foremost humanity and a touching side on Monk. That mixture makes the secondary layers of footnotes and imaginary dialogues between painters, philosophers, famous writers, etc... forgivable and even likable in their eccentricity. Same goes with the TV script or the unique imitation of an academics CV. As you can see, a lot to offer (better said to read).

A box of surprises, a fierce statement, a peculiar comedy that won't make you laugh but think instead. Percival Everett is a writer to discover (thanks to Blackie Books for that).

SCORE: 7,75/10

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