by Ralph Ellison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Invisible Man / 0-679-73276-4
"Invisible Man", Ellison's master work, is breathtaking, indescribable, and completely unique. This long and careful allegory of the young black man making his way through the white world is filled with passages so crammed with myth and meaning that the closest comparison I can make is to Rushdie's carefully disjointed "The Satanic Verses".
Ellison is an absolute master of making simple events utterly unforgettable to the reader; secondary characters such as "Jim Trueblood" and "Mr. Norton" serve to underscore the complex and fascinating differences in the way crimes are treated across races. Jim Trueblood has 'accidentally' impregnated his own daughter, and this lurid incident has become a source of shame for the black community and a source of celebration for the prejudiced white community.
In contrast, Mr. Norton's reaction to this story seems intensely suspicious, and the writing may suggest that something similar has happened in his own past. And yet, it becomes immediately obvious that the same crime could be so much more easily covered up when the perpetrator possesses a respected skin tone and possesses significant financial resources. A rich white man may be able to cover up what a poor black man cannot; a rich white woman may choose to keep silent in order to preserve the social standing that a poor black woman cannot dream of; a rich white daughter may be sent off to a "private school" for a secret abortion that a poor black girl could never afford.
It is the power of "Invisible Man" that these issues are never answered and are not in fact even "explicitly" raised. The reader sees everything darkly, through a murky window into the world of the invisible man, but once the nuanced narrative nudges these issues into our minds we cannot let go of them.
~ Ana Mardoll
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