Saturday, September 26, 2020

Seven satirical novels about social upheaval

Adam Wilson is the author of three books: the novels Sensation Machines (2020) and Flatescreen (2012), and the collection of short stories What's Important is Feeling (2014).

At Electric Lit he tagged seven "books that push us out of complacency and force us to stare at our ugliest selves," including:
Oreo by Fran Ross

Oreo was all but ignored upon its original publication in 1974, and I can see why. Published at the peak of the Black Power Movement, this experimental novel about a biracial woman on a Homeric quest to track down her Jewish father intrepidly pushed against the grain of the zeitgeist. As Mat Johnson explains in a 2011 NPR piece:
“A novel about a biracial woman’s search for her Jewish identity, complete with Yiddish word jokes and a structure based around Greek mythology, was about as far away from what was expected of a black writer as possible.”
On top of that, Oreo is one of the most stylistically unorthodox books I’ve ever read; the closest comparison I can think of is The Crying of Lot 49, but reimagined as a Richard Pryor routine. It also happens to be one of the funniest, a novel whose very subject—cultural admixture—fuels its virtuosic joke-making and feverish wordplay. Ross draws from Yiddish and Black Vernacular English, but also from academic jargon, hippie slang, restaurant menus, and mathematical notation to produce a sui generis carnival of diversity.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue