Monday, February 15, 2016

Brief Thoughts 12

Never Die Alone by Donald Goines

A black drug dealer named King David is attacked in the street by people he had previously fucked over. He's discovered by a Jewish writer named Paul who rushes him to the hospital where he dies. Grateful for his kindness, King David leaves Paul everything he owns, including a diary detailing his rise from small to big time dealing. Meanwhile, Mike, King David's killer, is dealing with the fallout his revenge is having.

This is one of Goines' better known novels because of the movie starring DMX from 2004. It's an enjoyable crime thriller. Paul's glance into King David's diary is an excellent analysis of the psyche of a greedy dope peddler, and Mike's story line is full of action and suspense.

It's a flawed book, however. The two story lines don't really come together and both end a little too abruptly. The worst part is that there are one or two glaring continuity errors. Ones that could have easily been fixed by changing a couple words. The editor was clearly asleep at the wheel here.

Despite that, it's still a book worth picking up for a quick read.

Buy Never Die Alone by Donald Goines here. 

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver 

Eldridge Cleaver is a figure from the Civil Rights era who is nowhere near as well remembered as people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. It's easy to see why. In this very book, the man admits to being a rapist, and after the the 70s he became a conservative Mormon who stumped for the Republican party. Even Ishmael Reed's preface in this book is less than flattering. At one point Cleaver lead a group called "Guardians of the Sperm." It's easy to dismiss him as a crank.

The essays in Soul on Ice were written while he was in prison and deal with the subject of prison life, black liberation, the place of black men in popular culture, and sexuality in the context of American race relations. Many of the the essays on prison were originally letters to his lawyer. He was apparently in love with her and these letters come across somewhat as gushy and cloying.

The essays on sexuality divide black people and white people into four categories. Black women's femininity is compromised by servitude while a white women is overdosed on it. Black men are hypermasculine while power makes white men feminized. These essays lack the verisimilitude of his more personal ones and at times feel like mental masturbation.

Another infamous section in this book, besides admitting to having committed rapes, is his criticism of James Baldwin. While Cleaver praises Baldwin's writing, he condemns Baldwin himself as an Uncle Tom. He attributes this to the fact Baldwin was gay and compares homosexuality to raping babies and "wanting to become the head of General Motors." Moments like this are why history hasn't been kind to Cleaver. Still, this part was so blatant and mean-spirited I couldn't help but get a laugh out of it.

While I've been nothing but critical, I honestly loved this book. I couldn't put it down. Cleaver's writing has an absorbing energy that grips you and demands you hear him out to the end. Whatever flaws he had, his talent as a writer is undeniable.

As Reed notes in the preface, Cleaver was ultimately a doubter above all. His doubt lead him to some unusual places, but it allowed him to dissect race in America from a perspective few others could. He's a great example of why we always need people who reflexively distrust what they're taught. 

Maybe Eldridge Cleaver was a crank, but if he was, he was an interesting crank and one that deserves to be read. If nothing else, to get into glimpse into what a turbulent time the Civil Rights era really was.

Buy Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver here.

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