My Amputations is a postmodernist experimental novel that combines picaresque and bildungsroman techniques in a story about Mason Ellis and his search for an African American identity. Written in short episodes, the novel narrates the escapades of Mason from child to Air Force serviceman to hoodlum and bank robber and then to lecturer. His ultimate con is to receive $50,000 a year from the Magnan-Rockford Foundation. The novel is a complex blend of Mason’s past with his dreams and hallucinations. Fragments of his own novel are interjected into a narrative unreliably presented by a nameless narrator. Mason’s mental state suggests paranoid schizophrenia, as he constantly fears an unnamed conspiracy organized by the System.
Mason is the son of Melba, a light-skinned black woman, and Chiro, a hard-living black man. Mason’s youth in Chicago is troubled, and he has a fantasy existence with his muse, Celt CuRoi, perhaps a derivation of his mother’s partial Irish ancestry. Mason suffers episodes of racial bigotry in the service. His apprenticeship as a writer starts conventionally, as he imitates white writers such as Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway and black writers such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, and James Baldwin. After the service, Mason moves back to Chicago’s South Side, marries, has six children, and separates from his wife. Mason and a woman named Painted Turtle move to New York City and turn to a life of crime.
Mason claims that another man, possibly the Author, stole his manuscript. This same man...
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