cover image Gods Country--A Novel

Gods Country--A Novel

Percival Everett. Faber & Faber, $21.95 (219pp) ISBN 978-0-571-19832-0

Launching the publisher's Callaloo series, dedicated to books by ``writers of African descent,'' this corrosively funny and disquieting picaresque novel addresses the politics of identity and the racist brutality that marked America's westward expansion after the Civil War. Everett's ( Zulus ) vernacular narration is voiced by Curt Marder, an inveterate bigot and scamp whose ``slender'' education and conscience are brought into high relief when his house is burned and his wife kidnapped by bandits. Compelled to enlist a ``tracker,'' an intrepid, mysteriously omniscient black man named Bubba, Marder sets off across God's country, a landscape of primeval beauty and frontier savagery. His episodic adventures in Native American camps and squalid cowboy towns, as well as an encounter with a cross-dressing Colonel Custer who eats raw meat and raves about ``the Emasculation Proclamation,'' display the author's delight in the scoundrels and carnivalesque humor of the untamed frontier. The butt of countless practical jokes, Marder is dressed in war paint, tied to a stake and buried in the ground up to his neck, yet despite his affinities with other migratory and marginalized characters of the frontier, he suffers no crisis of conscience or moral maturity. For Everett is finally less concerned with psychological complexity than with the racist legacy of Manifest Destiny; shot through this novel's cartoonish surface, right up to its astonishing, larger-than-life denouement, his grave historical ruminations are less portentous and far more troubling. (May)