About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

#11: Native Son

Don't think I've mentioned this here yet, but I've been listening to an audiobook of Richard Wright's Native Son (New York: Random House, 1940).

Summary: "After 58 years in print, Wright's Native Son has acquired classic status. It has not, however, lost its power to shock or provoke controversy. Bigger Thomas is a young black man in 1940s Chicago who accidentally kills the daughter of his wealthy white employer. He tries to frame the young woman's fiance for the crime and attempts to extort ransom from the victim's family, but his guilt is discovered, and he is forced into hiding. After a terrifying manhunt, he is arrested and brought to trial. Though his fate is certain, he finds that his crimes have given meaning and energy to his previously aimless life, and he goes to his execution unrepentant. Wright avoids the trap of making his hero a martyr, for Bigger is a vicious and violent bully. But out of this tale the author develops a profoundly disturbing image of racism and its results that puts Bigger's experience in horrifying perspective." (-Library Journal Review)

Opening Lines:

"An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman's voice sang out impatiently:

"'Bigger, shut that thing off!'"

My Take: I'm just about halfway through the book right now (Bigger's just fled his employer's home, knowing his crime is about to be discovered). Incredibly disturbing, suspenseful, and surprisingly contemporary. I suspect this will be one of this books I appreciate deeply, but can't really say I like.

Wow. Maybe it's the way I took this book in -- a few tracks at a time over several weeks, while in the car or doing the dishes -- but when I finished it last night, I felt both bereft and deeply satisfied. The book's a classic, and synopses/ study guides/ Cliff Notes abound on the internet; I won't spend time providing another one here. But the way Wright unfolds Bigger's story is nothing short of masterful. Even now, having finished the novel, it's hard to wrap my brain around how I could feel at once appalled by the murders Bigger's committed and unconvinced that things could have gone any other way. His jail conversations with Boris Max, lawyer and eventual friend, bring about an ending that's simultaneously devastating, terrifying, and ever-so-slightly hopeful. Frankly, I can't do this book justice.

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