Debut memoir relates the author’s struggles with a mixed-race identity, his family’s battles with poverty and his search for a profoundly schizophrenic mother who disappeared during his infancy.
Matthews, whose father worked for a variety of black publications in Baltimore, shows remarkable energy and imagination, as well as appealing self-deprecation, in his tale of success erected on a foundation of failure. Ralph Matthews “stole” his son from his estranged wife, who promptly decamped for Israel, never to return. The ensuing years featured deepening poverty, declining fortunes and an abusive stepmother who stabbed David with a fork and put his head through drywall. The author easily passed for white through much of his childhood and youth, telling the curious—and there were many—that he was Jewish, Lebanese, Palestinian, whatever they would believe. He stumbled through elementary school, dropped out of high school, watched a lot of TV, read a lot of books. He attached himself to the neighborhood stud, whose father taught martial arts and kept firearms around the house. After much difficulty, Matthews began to take his life more seriously, obtaining a GED and attending college. When he finally contacted his mother’s family, he learned she had died. His reminiscences include the obligatory sexual coming-of-age stuff, some of it sordid; he renders the almost equally obligatory drug-deal-gone-bad sequence in screenplay format. The tone throughout is ironic and playful, but often overwrought as well. Usage and grammatical errors include dangling constructions and inappropriate pronoun cases. The author sends ten-dollar words to do ten-cent jobs, and his vocabulary sometimes exceeds his comprehension (he should check the definition of soupçon). He also employs clichés. Opening an envelope containing the first photo he’s ever seen of his mother, must he have a lump in his throat?
Moments of exuberant power, but Matthews too often stumbles over his own sentences.