The cover of the novel depicts Diogenes of Sinope, the Greek philosopher who allegedly carried around a lit lantern in broad daylight, saying he was “looking for an honest man”. But the Diogenes shown here is black, jauntily clad in pink shirt and white trousers.
The reading was poorly attended and a couple of readers had not managed to read the novel. Nevertheless with a bit of urging they too read from passages others had selected.
Paul Beatty - ‘I wanted to be a psychologist. It taught me how to look underneath the rock’
There's a lot of drollery and sheer extravagance in the use of language, sprinkled plentifully with mother-fuckers, bitches and psychology jargon. The characters are often denizens of the absurd: Hominy Jenkins who volunteers as slave to the narrator (‘Me’) and calls him Massa in the manner of a pre-Reconstruction era slave; a punk pretender called Foy Cheshire who lives by publishing the ideas of Me's father and heads the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. And Marpessa the attractive bus-driver Me yearns for, who seems unattainable.
Me goes about his life work of
a) Re-creating the erased town of agrarian Dickens in LA County, the largest and most diverse county in USA whose population of 10m is larger than that of 42 states; and
b) Re-segregating its society so people may regain a sense of community, identity and self-worth.
Miraculously he succeeds in both ventures, and the rejuvenated Dickens scores higher on measures of social and educational progress than it ever had before. However, he runs foul of the Civil Rights Act and ends up facing judgement in the Supreme Court of the United Staes, refighting the ‘separate-but-equal’ battles of the 1960s.
KumKum & Joe
Though Me wins Marpessa by novel's end, since the case is unresolved, there's scope for a even crazier sequel.
Here we are at the end of the reading after consuming the sweet almond nougat Hemjit brought along:
Joe, Thommo, Sunil, Preeti (back row) KumKum, Hemjit (sitting)