A HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN PEOPLE [PROPOSED] BY STROM THURMOND

Percival Everett, As Told to, James R. Kincaid, As Told to . Akashic $15.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-888451-57-3

The mere broaching of the outrageous titular book proposal is enough to keep this hilarious high-concept satire humming along. Among the characters who try to make sense of it are the fey, omnisexual Tennessee Williamsish congressional aide proposing the book, who attempts to clarify things by suggesting that the Methuselan segregationist senator "is, properly understood, a black writer"; the fatuous Simon & Schuster editor who thinks such a project might make for a fashionably "hot" manuscript (but said editor doesn't have "enough holes in his bowling ball"); and the authors, inserting themselves into the novel as academic ghostwriters whose curiosity and greed overcome their revulsion at the idea. And then there's the slyly charming Thurmond himself, who's far from fully committed to the project, and cagily justifies his own racist record by throwing away the concepts of objective truth and personal responsibility as casually as he throws out homespun anecdotes ("You know, my brother Bill used to stutter something terrible. He couldn't say grace and have his food be hot"). The story's epistolary format allows novelist Everett and literary theorist Kincaid to write in a chorus of richly individuated voices, by turns—and often simultaneously—sardonic, hysterical, obsequious and threatening, aware of their own hypocrisies but unwilling to renounce them. The result is a truly funny sendup of the corrupt politics of academe, the publishing industry and politics, as well as a subtle but biting critique of racial ideology. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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Ebook - 300 pages - 978-1-61775-213-1
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