Damned If I Do

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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.