Damned If I Do
Percival Everett, an English professor at the University of Southern California who just happens to be African American, once said he does not want to talk about race; he just wants to make art. And, he might have added, make us laugh at ourselves in the process.
In the delightful collection Damned If I Do, even stories about racial prejudice are treated with a light satirical touch. In “The Appropriation of Cultures,” a young black man buys a pickup truck with a confederate flag on the back and, by driving it around, gradually undermines a symbol of racial injustice more successfully than conventional protests. In another story that centers on a pickup truck, a romance novelist just trying to earn a living, enjoy his privacy, and protect the environment, finds a way to make Hollywood pay through the nose and, in the process, staves off real estate and commercial encroachment.
You can read a Percival Everett story about a man trying to escape an insane asylum and know you are not going to be subjected to a tirade about better treatment of the mentally ill. You can read a Percival Everett story about a black government official trying to get a signature from a prejudiced old woman and know you are not going to have to listen to another rant about racial injustice.
It is hard to resist a writer who makes you laugh and does not preach to you, a writer whose only agenda is the vulnerability and absurdity of the human condition. Even Everett's messiah story, “The Fix,” centers on a handyman who knows how to repair everything, from broken compressors to broken hearts. These stories are a pleasure to read.