HIGH COTTON by Darryl Pinckney
Kirkus Star

HIGH COTTON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This autobiographical first novel delights in irreverence and irony--its politically incorrect narrator refuses to sacrifice his much-cultivated individuality for a ready-made racial identity. He's black, blue, and bourgeois--Ellison's Invisible Man getting drunk with Frederick Exley. Fragmented and episodic, Pinckney's daring narrative begins in Indiana ""on the glossy edge of the New Frontier,"" when the young narrator looks into his future among the ""Also Chosen,"" the suburban answer to ""the Talented Tenth"" of well-educated and polite Negroes. But hovering over the rosy scene is Ivy-educated Grandfather Eustace (""the arch darky""), whose failure at everything, including itinerant preaching, presages his unnamed grandson's own will to dissipate. Nerdy and precocious, the adolescent Anglophile discovers ""the social stratification of being a black-power advocate in a suburban high school."" But his involvement with a Black Panther splinter group (the Heirs of Malcolm) ends with his purge for ""flunkyism."" A trip to beloved England finds London as depressing as downtown Indianapolis. College days are served on the edge of Harlem (the ""Valley of the Shines""), where Black Muslims and street hustlers mark him as college boy and rube. His only black friend in school is the flamboyant and sexy Bargetta, who dates only whites. After Columbia, our hero slums on Morningside Heights; hangs out in a working-class bar; works for Djuna Barnes as a part-time handyman. He coasts through a job in publishing; moves to Manhattan's Pomander Walk; attends a Farrakhan rally;, and suffers through a dinner party with black yuppies. While he halfheartedly tries to make his way in the world, family keeps tugging at his conscience and consciousness--Aunt Clara in ""the Old Country"" down south; Uncle Castor, the aging jazzman; and Grandfather Eustace in mental decline. Ultimately, Pinckney's unhip narrator embraces art not ideology, loneliness not a lifestyle. Pinckney mocks the racial shibboleths, deftly turns the ironist inward, and scorns his self-indulgence. His voice--in perfect tones and full of timbre--speaks to, not for, ""the black experience"" among those who value character over color.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"