Paul Ruffins (review date 6 February 1994)
SOURCE: "The Crucible of Violence," in Book World—The Washington Post, February 6, 1994, p. 2.
[In the following review, Ruffins praises McCall's autobiography for its honest attempt at helping other African-American men with similar backgrounds and beliefs to understand their own rational and emotional needs.]
I've-been-to-prison books are always bridges. Some, like Monster by gangsta' celebrity Monster Kody Scott, span the gulf between the reader's world and life in the deadliest gangs or toughest prisons. But in more important works such as Nathan McCall's Makes Me Wanna Holler, pris-on is the midpoint in the writer's journey between crime and enlightenment.
In Autobiography of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice or George Jackson's Soledad Brother, it is the stature of the author that lends significance to the memoir; the junkie/convict evolves into the revolutionary hero or martyred saint. Why then, is Holler a real contribution to this honorable genre, since McCall, a Washington Post reporter who once served time for armed robbery, is not a true gangster, revolutionary or saint? Because McCall's evolution from angry thug to edgy black professional is much more relevant to most people's lives. He not only constitutes a bridge from Manchild in the Promised Land to The Rage of the Privileged Class, but in the process he helps answer some important questions: What was he thinking about when he shot that guy? How come so many black men don't live with their children? Why do so many black professionals have ulcers?
Though McCall, 39, grew up in a pleasant section of Portsmouth, Va., he deeply experienced the internalized wounds of race. Seeing a photograph of their grandmother warmly and sincerely smiling at the two white boys she cared for as a domestic, McCall and his brothers were pierced by the realization that she never seemed that loving when she was with them.
From McCall's adolescent perspective none of the honest, overworked older black people got any respect, only hustlers got respect. A good student traumatized by a racist school, he captures the aching to be cool that enslaves so many teens to peer pressure. "Alone I was afraid of the world and insecure," he writes. "But I felt cockier and surer of myself when hanging with my boys … We did things in groups that we'd never try alone. The group also gave me a sense of belonging that I'd never known before. With those guys I could hide in the crowd and feel like the accepted norm. There was no fear of standing out, feeling vulnerable, exiled and exposed. That was a comfort even my family couldn't provide."
McCall's world was ruled by the impulses of young men as if there was no option but to...
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