13 July 2009

Angry Black White Boy or, The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay, by Adam Mansbach

Another book that suffers from an underwhelming finale. Angry Black White Boy was shaping up to be one of the more impressive books I'd read in quite a long time, all the more so because it's so contemporary and timely and clever, and then it went wheels off the tracks in bizarro land. Granted, it would have been a tough book to conclude anyhow. But the solution the author came up with was like something out of a Choose Your Own Adventure story; totally strange, quite disturbing, and highly unsatisfying.

Prior to that, however, it's a tremendous book, and a really intelligent examination of race issues in the US today. Macon Detornay is a white kid from the suburbs of Boston who loves hiphop in a major way, and desperately wants to live by its teachings. He's also smart enough to realize that he is not and will never be black, and that it would be extremely offensive of him to pretend otherwise. He has, however, learned to hate white people, and this includes a strong dose of self hatred.

If the novel were entirely from Macon's perspective, it'd be irritating in the extreme. Because he's not only self righteous and pretty full of himself, he's also ridden with hypocrisy (though at least he's smart enough to realize it sometimes). But the novel refuses to take the timeworn irony excuse - yes he's annoying but you're meant to (occasionally) read him ironically and figure that out - no, the author is smart enough to realize that a lot of the problems of Macon's worldview might be too subtle for the reader to catch, and therefore occasionally makes one privy to the thoughts and reactions of others (who may themselves be flawed). It's really, really well done, and it's a highly thought provoking text. The examination of race issues, especially as related to hiphop, is given an added layer by a bit of deeper history - Macon is related to a key player in the history of the segregation of baseball. It might sound cheesy, but it's actually a really nice touch.

But the book doesn't just stop at the problem of white fans of hiphop - it also considers the problem of political action. You see, Macon has decided to fight against White People (and raise awareness about racism) by robbing them. And - it strains credibility a wee bit, but it's worth going along for the ride - he becomes a kind of folk hero. Well, to some. To others he's a race traitor, and to others he's just plain crazy. But in any case, he becomes An Event of sorts, and the consequences are thought provoking.

Also, it should be said, the book is often hilariously funny, and for hiphop heads, full of tidbits of music history and some surprisingly good rhymes, on occasion.

It's a worthwhile read, especially for hiphop fans, just be forewarned - the ending is a let-down.

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