(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

This short novel follows two narrative threads: baseball player Craig Suder’s quixotic adult adventures and his childhood memories. Each contemporary moment is informed by some action in the past; chapters shift from one narrative line to the other.

The first story line begins with a strikeout, but Craig Suder’s problems in batting are only the beginning of his worries. His poor performance on the field is letting down his team and embarrassing his son; his poor performance in bed is driving his wife Thelma to her exercycle and perhaps to another man. After he is conveniently put on the disabled list, not for any physical injury but for his supposed jinx on the team, Craig uses his long leave of absence to examine his life. He does not like what he sees. Only with his discovery of what he assumes is Thelma’s infidelity does he decide to abandon his responsibilities. He leaves, taking only his baseball bat, saxophone, record player, and a recording of Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.”

Herein begins a series of episodic, seriocomic experiences. First, Craig asks Sid Willis if he can stay on Willis’s boat. During his short sojourn with the renegade Willis, Suder becomes the unknowing accomplice to a drug-smuggling scheme. Unhappy with his implication in criminal activities and wary of Willis’s offer to do him a favor by ending his “miserable, pathetic life,” Suder pushes Willis and the drugs overboard. He then adds a suitcase full of money to his list of movable property.

Willis’s paraphrase of Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel’s theory that “you need a dash of illogicalness to make your life complete” seems to apply to much of Suder’s life. After his adventure at sea, he lands in Portland, Oregon, where he rents a room in a boardinghouse in the Chinese district, unaware that its residents are gay. He also unwittingly inspires the affection of Fat Thomas, who helps him escape from Willis, who has followed Craig to the city. Taking Thomas’s station wagon, Suder heads for manager Lou Tyler’s cabin in the Cascade mountain range. Along the way, he acquires an elephant by making a wager at a suburban shopping mall. Once in the mountains, he takes...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Atlantic. Review of Suder, by Percival Everett. 252 (September, 1983): 124. The narrative does not live up to initial expectations, and the ending is especially unsatisfactory. “Even daffiness provides no escape from a daft world.”

Gray, Paul. “Laugh Track.” New York 122 (August 22, 1983): 70. The novel abandons its promising beginning, Craig Suder’s many-layered professional and personal predicament, and opts for jokes at the expense of character development.

Hoffman, Alice. “Slumps and Tailspins.” The New York Times Book Review (October 2, 1983): 9, 26. Describes the novel’s humor as often overstated. Calls “redeemingly evocative” the flashbacks involving Suder’s youth, wherein the author captures the “terrors of childhood.”

Rozié, Fabrice, Esther Allen, and Guy Walter, eds. As You Were Saying: American Writers Respond to Their French Contemporaries. Champaign, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 2007. Includes an exchange between Everett and French writer Grégoire Bouillier; provides insight into Everett’s literary investments, tastes, and poetics.

See, Carolyn. “Suder.” Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 31, 1983, 1, 8. The novel is a comic masterpiece that tells how an individual can achieve transcendence over problems.

Stuewe, Paul. “Late Night Thoughts.” Quill and Quire 50 (January, 1984): 33. An inventive plot and imaginative characters are undercut by prosaic language.