This book offers perhaps the first great protagonist of the new
century. Thelonius "Monk" Ellison, college professor, author of
"dense" experimental novels, and recipient of 17 rejection letters,
is forced to leave L. A. and return to his childhood home in D. C.
to care for his ailing mother. He parlays his frustrations into "My
Pafology," an exploitive novel that represents everything he hates
about the publishing industry. The novel, written under the
pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh, catapults him to the forefront of the
literary scene, causing Monk's wildest dreams and worst nightmares
to unfold simultaneously.
Using Rinehart (from Ralph Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN) as a role
model, Monk's pseudonym becomes all too real and comfortable for
him. The elusive Stagg is able to show just enough of himself to
impress a Random House editor and sell the film rights to his novel
for a whopping $3 million. To his shock and horror, Monk now finds
"My Pafology" on the short list for the most prestigious book award
in the country.
The compelling plot takes many interesting turns, addressing themes
of race, family, and publishing. A murder, family secrets revealed,
and his mother's worsening condition all swirl around Monk as his
literary transformation unfolds. He grapples with his creative
integrity, but it is hardly a moral dilemma about taking the money;
the conflict lies in his extreme sense of isolation, even with his
own family, and his level of acceptance at "selling out." While
Monk is ultimately able to come to terms with "My Pafology" as his
masterpiece, his sense of isolation remains all too real.
With multiple layers of satire, ERASURE takes no prisoners in its
assault on the publishing industry and its notions of "African
American literature." Percival Everett thumbs his nose at the
literary snobs and the commercial hounds alike. Television is also
a target for his wrath, as he dedicates several unforgettable
scenes to exposing the adverse role it can play in literature and
the stereotyping of Black people.
Everett masterfully executes this novel-within-novel ("My Pafology"
is presented in its entirety, comprising 75 pages of ERASURE). The
result is a multidimensional protagonist interacting on several
different levels. There is Monk, a lover of wood, fishing, and
intellectual humor; his altar ego Stagg, the pimp-like
ex-con-turned writer; there is also Van Go Jenkins, the
shuckin'-jivin' main character of "My Pafology"; finally, there is
the prevailing voice of Everett, threatening to turn the literary
world on its ear with his relentless attack.
This is not a good book by a Black writer, nor is it a Black book
by a good writer; it is a remarkable work of fiction that
transcends labels. With his strong intellect and satirical wit,
Percival Everett has seemingly resolved his own place in the
literary spectrum while providing readers with the best of both
worlds. ERASURE is a compelling and insightful read, and a must
study for serious writers.
Reviewed by David McGoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 21, 2011