‘Look at me. I on TV’

Daniel Soar

  • Erasure by Percival Everett
    Faber, 294 pp, £14.99, March 2003, ISBN 0 571 21588 2

With its energetic cast and insistent street score, it still manages to be poignant without becoming bathetic, and violent without being exploitative. The movie ends as happily as it can, while being true to the statistics: ‘One out of every 21 black males will be murdered before he is 25 – most will die at the hands of other black men.’ Of course, realities hide behind statistics. And these Boyz are real.

The twists and the turns of the novel are fascinating, but the real strength of the work is its haunting verisimilitude. The ghetto is painted in all its exotic wonder. Predators prowl, innocents are eaten. But the novel is finally not dark, as we leave the story, with Sharonda trying to raise enough money to get her babies back from the state. Sharonda, finally, is the epitome of the black matriarchal symbol of strength.

The first quote is from a review in the Washington Post by Rita Kempley, staff writer, of the 1991 movie Boyz N the Hood, written and directed by ‘homeboy’ John Singleton; in Kempley’s words, ‘a rude, insistent rap, an unflinching, often funny, always compassionate look at coming of age in Central Los Angeles’. The second is from a review ‘in the Atlantic Monthly or Harpers’ of Juanita Mae Jenkins’s runaway bestseller, We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, as quoted in Percival Everett’s new novel. We’s Lives in Da Ghetto is a fictional fiction modelled on more than one recent rendering of ghetto life, and has just been made a Book Club Selection on the Kenya Dunston Show (‘Girl, that is some writing,’ Kenya says). The only significant difference between the reviewers is that Everett – implausibly and slightly unfairly – has denied his the assistance of a subeditor.

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