HONKY by Dalton Conley


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Conley (Sociology/New York Univ.) recounts his years of growing up poor in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s in the projects on the Lower East Side of New York, where as a white he was a minority amid Latinos, blacks, and Asians. His mother and father were a bohemian couple who abandoned their respectable origins and moved to the inner city. Young Conley went to school first on the Lower East Side first and later in Greenwich Village. The comparison between the poorer schools of the Lower East Side with those of better-off Greenwich Village allows the sociologist in Conley, mercifully gagged until that point, to come gushing through, in the process spilling the jargon of his profession over what had heretofore been a fine first-person narrative. Sociology gets him into trouble in other ways as well. Conley, for example, is inclined to appropriate slang words like "yo" from their present usage back into the late 1960s—when, arguably, it was being used only in some small sectors of the black community. Moreover, the word "honky" is a slightly disingenuous pejorative term, used (by Latinos mostly) more for its shock value than for anything else. More serious still is Conley's portrayal of blacks (and some Latinos, too) as hopeless victims—in contrast to the whites, who emerge triumphantly unscathed to tell the black and Latino stories with all their sympathies in all the right places.

Not without its charm, Conley's account has the makings of a made-for-television movie.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-520-21586-9
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2000


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