cover image The Women

The Women

Hilton Als, Lindsay. Farrar Straus Giroux, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-29205-8

""I knew I was a Negress... [when] I saw myself in my mother's eyes; the reflection showed a teenage girl, insecure, frightened and vengeful."" Thus does Als, a black man, introduce the story of his mother's life and his intense identification with it, which, he feels, affected the direction of his sexuality. It is the first of three powerful essays on race and sexual identity in the black community. The other two essays explore the life of a legendary black ""fag hag"" and the culture of what Als dubs the gay ""nigerati."" Als, a staff writer for the New Yorker, does a highwire act, perched between an anguished portrait of his mother and himself and a dispassionate examination of a segment of black urban culture whose males feel they have two role models--""bad niggers"" or victimized mothers. Both postures often coalesce in an ambivalent mix of pride and humiliation. Although he deals with familiar themes of black attitudes toward color, white values and perceptions, his vision is both original and wrenching. Altogether, this is a provocative, engrossing vision of both homosexuality and black culture. (Nov.)