I finished reading this powerful book about an hour ago. The main impression I had was a great sense of sadness for a hopeful and innocent life that had been gradually destroyed. He was used and abused by alomst everybody in his life except for his papa, sister Carol, Injun and Dorcas his "girlfriend." Continually through the book you see that all the decent and kind people have their lives suddenly ended in horrific acts of violence dressed up as love, revenge, necessity (him or me) or just carelessness for the consequences of their actions. These acts were often perpetrated by their friends or family. Otis (the main character) is a good person who cannot justify this senseless cruelty because of a persons colour or background or job and so extends a Samaritan like hand to those who would not have done the same for him. In this way the book manages to remain, in all its horror, optimistic about the nature of a kind soul in a world of suffering right until the very last word. Unfortunately there is an epilogue that absolutely shattered me. On top of all the misery and loss that he observed - he always seemed to be an observer in his life - Otis also had to come to terms with his sexuality at a time when he was regarded by others, and himself, as a freak of nature. He often wonders why he is unable to perform for the woman he thinks he loves and puts it down to a powerful (wrongly called schizophrenic on the sleeve) character inside himself called Sally. He thinks that if he can only have sex with a woman without having to think about it then he will be a man and life will get better. This provides a stark reminder of just how alienated and frightening the world was for people like Otis who just could not even begin to comprehend that they are as pure and naturally human as any other in the world. His strength to keep on going and trying against this unwinnable battle is both inspirational and full of hopeless despair. I think telling his story was, in the end, too much. What a fantastic book. I am going to read it again this weekend and have the cry I had to hold off on the commuter train this morning.
I have just finished reading "Mama Black Widow" for the second time. Iceberg Slim (real name Robert Beck) takes you right into the heart of his and the character's world. I devoured it page after page like a ravenous dog eager for the next mouthful. If I could describe Slim's writing I would say it is like "Shakespeare on crack cocaine". It tells of a time way before political correctness and racial equality. Although I am a white woman I identified at times with the "widow" although for entirely different reasons you would imagine. "Mama" - although at times a demon with a dialogue so sharp it could cut your heart into pieces (and it did so with members of her family) is a woman who was deeply wronged throughout her life and her self awareness is so acute it strangles her everyday existence. She hates working for the "dirty white folks" who demean and belittle her for a pittance and she rages at her family day in day out because she wants a better life for them. In doing so she drives the people she loves most away and emasculates her own husband when she effectively emotionally castrates him. As a child Otis - (the character who narrates the story of his own and his family's tortured lives) sees and hears things that takes his childhood away from him - splintering him into the fragmented human being he becomes. As he reaches sexual maturity he becomes aware of an urgent desire to cross dress and get off with guys. And so the "freak" Sally is born - the woman inside of him who is eager for love and tries to find it in gay bars and drinking joints in the ghetto. I don't want to spoil it - you can read it for yourself. It's totally unforgettable and although I never knew Otis and never will I will never forget him.
I can't believe that this book hasn't been reviewed yet! This is quite simply one of the most beautiful novels you will ever read. Based on a true story this tells the story of a drag queen pimp that became one of America's most important literary voices. It is possibly Iceberg Slim's finest moment combining gritty images of street life with sensitive portrayals of child abuse as seen throught the victims eyes and a classic mother/child relationship. Hailed by both authors and the hip hop community in general, Iceberg Slim's words are at equal parts gritty, sensitive and poetic. Although it's a cliche, this book will make you cry and laugh.