Desperation outstrips the satire in Everett's latest exercise in narrative wizardry (Glyph, 1999, etc.), as a lonely African-American writer faces private torment and instant fame when his parody of ghetto literature is taken as the real deal.
His own generation's version of an invisible man, Thelonious Ellison, a.k.a. Monk, is a largely unknown academic novelist who visits hometown Washington, D.C., to give a paper and see his mother and sister. No sooner does he return to California than Sis, a doctor in an abortion clinic, is shot dead at work. Someone has to take care of Mom, who's showing the first wrenching signs of Alzheimer's, so Monk returns home. There, his frustration with a runaway bestseller written in ghettospeak by a bourgeois black woman after visiting Harlem for a couple of days is fueled by endless rejections of his own new manuscript; in a rage he pumps out a parody and sends it under a pseudonym to his agent—who promptly secures a six-figure advance and a seven-figure movie deal. Stunned that no one recognizes his book as a send-up, Monk refuses to let his true identity be known. Meanwhile, he must cope with his mother's rapid decline, his gay brother's sudden animosity, and the discovery among his father's papers of letters indicating not only that Dad had a white mistress long ago, but that Monk has a half-sister his age. Struggling to maintain his own identity as his creation looms larger than life and his family redefines itself, he makes choices that render him invisible no more.
More genuine and tender than much of Everett's previous work, but no less impressive intellectually: a high point in an already substantial literary career.