(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Reckless Eyeballing is a work written in the third person that closely follows the life of black playwright Ian Ball over a period of weeks in Manhattan as he tries to get his second major play produced. Having left the Caribbean island of New Oyo to become a famous writer, Ian is caught between the conflicting political demands of a small group of theater people. Ian emotionally and philosophically vacillates between feuding factions that argue over his position as playwright and the political correctness of his play. He is torn between loyalty to a simpler southern way of life and the hectic, conflicting social interactions in a major northern city. Ian is also philosophically trapped between an older generation of black, male, radical, anti-feminist playwrights and an emerging group of white and black radical feminist playwrights and directors. A series of short vignettes shows the increasing demands put on Ian by his producer, Becky French, and his director, Tremonisha Smarts. His chief supporter, a white director named Jim Minsk, is brutally sacrificed in a racist and sexist ceremony held at a fraudulent “college” in the South. At the same time, a bizarre series of attacks on leading feminists in the arts is perpetrated by the Flower Phantom, a masked intruder who cuts off his victims’ hair and leaves a chrysanthemum at the scene of his crimes, claiming the women deserve the same punishment that French female collaborators with the Nazis received after World War II. White detective Lawrence O’Reedy is assigned to the case. Nearing the end of his tenure as a New York police officer, O’Reedy is suffering from hallucinations in which the black and Hispanic victims of his quick gun come back to haunt him. The Flower Phantom continuously strikes throughout the novel, as O’Reedy’s investigation becomes more and more muddled. Ian’s mixed reaction to the Flower Phantom reflects his troubled state of mind. He refers to himself as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; he rationally feels the attacker is crazy but emotionally supports his actions.

Becky French demands that Ian’s play, slated to be shown at the prestigious Mountbatten Theater, be produced instead at a smaller venue. In place of Ian’s play, Becky plans to produce Eva’s Honeymoon, a play that takes place at the end of World War II in Adolf Hitler’s bunker. In this play, Eva Braun rebels against Hitler, claiming that she as well as other German women have been victimized. Eva shoots and kills Hitler...

(The entire section is 1021 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As in Flight to Canada, the title of Reckless Eyeballing is the name of a work within the novel, written by the main character. Ian Ball, a southern black playwright, has been “sex-listed”—that is, blacklisted as sexist—by the feminist critics who control New York theater. In an attempt to redeem himself, he has written a play called Reckless Eyeballing, which caters to feminist views.

Ian Ball bears some resemblance to Reed, who dabbled in playwriting in the 1980’s, though he is clearly not Reed’s point-of-view character. In a carefully controlled ironic narration, Reed makes it clear that Ball has sold out his real beliefs in order to be popular, yet neither Ball nor the narrator ever says so explicitly. In fact, Ball himself is guilty of “reckless eyeballing”—that is, looking at women lasciviously, “undressing them with his eyes.” Even while he argues with the feminists who oppose him, he is thinking about them sexually. Further, his very name is “I. Ball.”

Like Reed’s other novels, Reckless Eyeballing coalesces several simultaneous plots. While Ball is trying to get his play produced, Detective Lawrence O’Reedy, a parody of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan (whom Reed mentions several times in the novel), is chasing the “Flower Phantom,” who accosts feminists who have denigrated black men, shaves their hair, and leaves them with a chrysanthemum. In a third plot, Jim Minsk, the powerful director who stands up to the feminist bullies Tremonisha Smarts (playwright and director) and Becky French (producer), is murdered in an anti-Semite conspiracy that is never explained.

Jim’s murder puts Ian at the mercy of his enemies, Tremonisha, who takes over as director, and Becky, who moves the play to a...

(The entire section is 739 words.)