Friday, 29 August 2014

Reckless Eyeballing by Ishmael Reed

There is this thing I do when I stare at a review, baffled as to what to write, for quite a long time. I start to try to think about why this particular review is so hard to write. Sometimes that helps me through to throw something together. We'll see if it works in this case.

Everyone is just so awful in this book. White feminists hate black men. Black women hate black men and white feminists. Black men hate white feminists and Jewish people. The one Jewish character dies before we can really find out who he hates. Or maybe the hate stops there. Oddly, none of them focus any of their ire on white men.  The only white man in the group is an Irish police officer who has repeatedly killed men of colour in the line of duty, and is proud of it. (Reading this right around the time Ferguson was hitting the headlines was interesting, to say the least.) But all of the characters place power, when they rant, elsewhere. Mostly on white feminists, who apparently control all the theatre spaces in New York?

I find that hard to believe, but this isn't supposed to be realism.

But what my real problem is is that I'm not sure what the point is. People are awful and hate each other? Maybe displace their anger? Fucking white feminists are all pro-Eva Braun? (I'm not kidding.) Actually, that's weirdly what bothers me. All these groups are shown as so…monolithic. There's no dissension within groups.

There's also a thread running through here about compromising your artistic voice to get exposure and approval. The main character is trying to ingratiate himself with white feminists by changing his play, bit by bit, from being about black men being killed for looking, to being about how looking is rape, and giving all the best lines and the moral high ground in the play to the white female protagonist. He's looking for approval, obviously, and while he gets some good mentoring from other playwrights, more he gets people wanting to adapt it further for their own ideological ends.

And rage gets acted out, in the background, as women, black and white, are assaulted and have their heads shaved by a black man. Most minimize the assaults. Some don't.

I just keep feeling here like there isn't enough to grab onto. I get what happens, but I don't in the least get what it's supposed to mean. There are interesting bits here, and certainly some very unsettling parts, both viscerally and intellectually. But is unsettling enough? It's a start, certainly. Sometimes (often) we need work that shakes us up, throws us out of our comfort zones, makes like uncomfortable for the traditionally comfortable. This book does that. What's the next step?

I'm not sure.

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