Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: "Blackass" by A. Igoni Barrett

After reading the premise of Blackass, the debut novel of Nigerian short story writer A. Igoni Barrett I knew I had to check this novel out and was lucky enough to come across a copy of it all the way back in March of this year on my trip out to Dallas for WrestleMania. I regret letting it collect dust on my shelf for so long, because it is one of the smartest, funniest and most brutal looks at race and identity I have read all year and deserves shelf space with award winners like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods (which won the PEN/Faulkner Award this year, an award this novel, if my predictions for book awards continue to come true, is going to win that award or at the very least be nominated). It has a story that is immediate and original, milked for all its worth and leaving a lasting impression. Despite the first reaction to this crazy idea was, for me, to chuckle, I was blown away by how smart and sophisticated this book was. I knew very little about the place it takes place in, but after reading it, the place is as alive and fraught with menace as Marlon James’ Jamaica or even Bret Easton Ellis’ Los Angles: a place with a different set of rules, where time moves just a bit quicker and opportunities to advance are few and far between and are available only to those willing to stray far enough from their conscious. Finally, I can get to what this story is all about. It starts immediately, much like the short story it is based on. One morning, before an important job interview, Furo Wariboko, a black man in his thirties living in Lagos, Nigeria, wakes up to find that he has turned into a white man with green eyes and red hair. His situation doesn’t bother him as much as his obligation to get to his job interview, a quandary that is shared by Gregor Samsa as well. He escapes his house, borrows money of a gullible stranger and not only successfully makes it to the job interview, but finds himself being offered a different position than he was scheduled to interview for, one with a higher salary, benefits and his own office. Later that day, he meets Syreeta, a beautiful woman with a mission of her own, and they begin a tenuous relationship. Furo’s luck, which was bad even before his sudden change in pigmentation (despite the skin on his ass), continues to change for the better, but strange encounter on his first day brings with it it’s own sort of reckoning. The satire here is cutthroat as I said before, but not in the way that you think. Furo is able to advance so quickly not simply because of the color of his skin, which makes him stick out in a city like Lagos, but by other’s perception about him and what they think he can get for them, whether that be his bosses, Syreeta, whose intentions are somewhat revealed in a scene involving some of her friends, all of whom have white husbands and the man near the end who makes him an offer he can’t refuse. It’s ending is quiet and hopeful, but also inevitable and inescapable. This novel will be rattling around my head for a while for all the right reasons.

Rating: 5/5

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