The Men: Race Representation

Post hidden under the cut due to graphic depiction of police violence and childhood sexual assault. Please mind the trigger warnings.

I don't consider myself a talented reader for racial issues in a text; I'm white and racial issues are often well outside my lane. At the same time, I feel it is my responsibility as a white person to call out possible problematic issues in a text so that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) reviewers aren't blindsided by problems when they go into the text later.

I said in my First Impressions portion of the review: "I have a theory which may or may not be correct: This book began as the story of a white woman (Jane) and her Black lesbian lover (Evangelyne), and whether or not Jane would chose Evangelyne over the man she married, with a gender rapture as the backdrop for this drama. Racially-diverse but not narratively-critical supporting POV characters were added in a second pass and fade out of the novel at about the halfway mark. Their actions have no effect on the narrative and only Jane's choice matters in the end." and I would like to now expand on that statement.

There are 5 Point of View (POV) characters in this novel whose thoughts we inhabit. One of the characters is white and receives the far larger share of pages, and her sections are written in first-person (I/me); the other characters are more racially diverse but have a much smaller share of pages, all written in third-person (she/her). The characters and their page counts are as follows:

Blanca Suarez. 14 year old girl with mystical connection to the hell-world containing the disappeared men. Dreams of the animal-demons. Mexican father, Korean mother. Quote: "I know I look totally Mexican, but I'm half Korean." Total pages: 5.5. Percent: 2%.

Ji-Won Park. I cannot find an age, ethnicity, or physical description for Ji-Won except: "She was the weird fat girl who couldn't meet your eye, who didn't speak at all or spoke too loud." and "a dumpy, frowning woman in a sweatshirt and basketball shorts, with a broad sad sensible face." She is an artist and a crackerjack tailor, providing the small group with internal decor. Total pages: 16.5. Percent: 6.1%.

Alma McCormick. 40 year old waitress who is the first to claim the empty mansion the women inhabit during their Netflix marathon of "The Men". Mexican mother, white (?) father. Quote: "Alma talked about their mother and her sudden fascination with her Mexican roots, when all the time they were growing up they had to be Americans, no hyphens allowed." Total pages: 19. Percent: 6.9%.

Ruth Goldstein. 53 year old Jewish woman who may be a retired homemaker? ("Ruth was fifty-three, broke, overweight, depressed, and her most glamorous ever job was managing a medical office in Chelsea.") Her son Peter is often mistakenly believed to be a Mexican migrant worker, explaining that he is "not Latino but Sephardic Jewish", yet when Ruth is in a Hispanic neighborhood she is described as white: "Ruth thought she was the only white person and felt a shameful jolt of racial paranoia." Total pages: 21.5. Percent: 7.8%.

Jane Pearson. 29 (?) year old blond white woman who is an unemployed homemaker. My best guess at her age is based on a college flashback in which she is 23, then announces being pregnant with the 5 year old child she loses in the disappearance. 23+(9 months)+5=~29. She is a tall, thin, pretty ex-ballerina whose first-person narrative is deeply self-conscious about her looks. Total pages: 182. Percent: 66.6%.

A sixth major character and our only Black woman is Evangelyne Moreau. She is not a POV character, but she does have an extended flashback of her life which is told to us filtered through Jane's voice. This flashback takes up 35.5 pages of Jane's 182 total, so if we were to be really generous we could drop Jane down to 146.5 pages and 53.6% of the novel. Yet I'm not really inclined to do so, because the POV is still clearly that of Jane's throughout.

It is worth noting that Jane joins the group of women at page 178. From that point on, Jane's narrative is the only one we receive; Ruth, Alma, Ji-Won, and Blanca all have some minor input into the narrative, but the POV character in each case is still Jane, so she can only tell us what the other women say and do, not what they might be thinking. Moreover, this is how Evangelyne is treated in Jane's sections: as a person whose words and actions are observed and filtered to us through Jane, with no input on her inner private thoughts. When Evangelyne is implied to have thoughts she doesn't share with Jane, those moments are seen as sinister and secretive, causing Jane emotional pain to have something held back from her--and all is resolved in Evangelyne's lengthy flashback section in which she comes clean about her past.

With all this in mind, we come to the question of whether "this book completely ignores white women's complicity in racialized violence". It's an important question to ask, given that the premise of the book is that the disappearance of all cis men leads to a utopia: is racism suddenly fixed once no cis men are around to perpetuate it? Lauren Hough assures us that the book addresses this issue and does not ignore it.

@baxstarjonmarie: how much do we want to bet that this book completely ignores white women's complicity in racialized violence?  @laurenthehough: It doesn’t. I’d take the bet because I like winning but I’ve read the book so it wouldn’t be fair.

The most obvious specter of white woman violence in this book is probably Poppy Beacham. I covered this under the Lesbian Representation, but Poppy is a 22 year old white girl who begins dating 16 year old Evangelyne when Evangelyne was an inexperienced youth.

The white girl who taught Evangelyne what white meant, and who would star in Evangelyne’s nightmares all her life, was her first girlfriend, Poppy Beacham. Bizarre though it might seem, she was also where The Men began. It was the year Evangelyne turned sixteen, a year she spent a lot of her time alone, out walking, thinking, looking for her life. Poppy Beacham was then twenty-two. She talked to Evangelyne in a 7-Eleven, then they walked around town together for hours, both giggling like much younger girls. That day Poppy confessed her mental illness and said she still heard voices, but the voices were comforting. A psychic had told her they were like the demons that had spoken to Socrates. “And if I want to make them go away, I just take meds. The meds work perfect for me.” Then Poppy led Evangelyne to a field and knelt at her feet in the grass. From that position, she told Evangelyne she was gay and had a big crush on Evangelyne already. Evangelyne got down in the long grass with her, and there, out of sight of the road, Poppy Beacham held Evangelyne’s hand. That was all. But that night at ARRI, the phone rang for Evangelyne. It was in the front hall, where coats were hung, an open public area, and Evangelyne covered her whole head with a parka to muffle the sound while she talked to Poppy Beacham—the most important thing she’d ever done.

Poppy and Evangelyne live in Vermont (which is 96% white) and Evangelyne is being raised in a Black cult which is described in the narrative as "an innocent thing in the world". They sacrifice chickens and teach the children to shoot guns, and the white neighbors don't like this, but the police haven't done anything yet because they "weren't invited inside".

homes and are broodingly resented by locals. Of course, Evangelyne’s mother belonged to a cult, and the house Evangelyne and her brothers grew up in was a cult house. Still, they were basically more city people, current and former urban professionals, most with advanced degrees. The cult was called the African Religions Research Institute and lived up to that stuffy name. There was no apocalyptic ideation, no promiscuity, no subservience to a ranting charlatan. They were just overearnest religion nerds, prone to interminable arguments about the worship traditions of medieval Timbuktu or whether Mambila spider divination required a particular spider species. They were adults who slept in dormitories. They performed goofy rituals and wore strange clothes. From the point of view of Evangelyne and her brothers, they spent their time devising ways to embarrass their teenage children. Their devotions were focused on the healing of this Earth—the defeat of war, injustice, and poverty—and their hearts were broken, little by little, because they accomplished nothing. They were an innocent thing in the world. But they were Black. That meant the cult was suspected by its neighbors of every form of Islamic extremism and voodoo witchcraft— also of every unsolved home invasion and burglary in a twenty-mile radius. Some white locals spied on Evangelyne’s backyard with binoculars to see the people bobbing up and down on prayer mats, drumming and chanting, dancing in masks, and occasionally sacrificing live chickens. One of the ARRI men sometimes took the older children out to teach them shooting, using bottles or (seasonally) pumpkins as targets; this was perceived as “military training” by the paranoid neighbors. There had been some calls to police already, and cops had come to the front door once but weren’t invited inside. The more

Evangelyne is a little embarrassed of the cult, in that way young teenagers are embarrassed by anything their parents are overly-enthusiastic about, but lives an otherwise idyllic childhood. She reads Foucault at home and was "preparing as a homeschooled student for early admission at Cornell". At night she and her brother and their two best friends drive the country roads and sing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" together, enjoying the marvel of being alive in the glorious year of 1997.

and the wind, so excited and so safe. She came out to Paul and Jay, and they were overawed at first, tongue-tied; as Giovanni later said, “rabbits in the headlights.” But soon they started teasing her about it shyly, and Evangelyne could tell tales about her crazy ex, which Giovanni used to interrupt with little falsetto cries of “Oh no!” Paul had a beautiful singing voice, and the others tried to harmonize with him sometimes, failing and laughing and blaming each other as they barreled down an empty highway. Only one night they succeeded, a night they were stuck in a blinding fog and driving with dreamlike slowness on a winding road, seeing nothing but the closest branches and a faint apparition of road ahead, their voices magically interwoven, turning and turning, singing slowly, If you get there before I do Coming for to carry me home Tell all my friends I’m coming too Coming for to carry me home . . . until a sudden shock of light hit, a car with high beams on their side of the road. Giovanni braked, swerving so the wheels left the tarmac and a tree trunk loomed, the song smashed every way: yelps, shrieks, swearing. Then they were back on the road, the lights gone, song gone. They all laughed explosively, clobbering each other. Evangelyne said, “Oh shit. We’re alive!”

Note: Nowhere in the novel are we given any indication of the current year. We have the date of the event (August 26) but the year and day are never mentioned. This was maddening to me as a reader, and I have only just realized that this flashback includes the first solid date I've seen in the book: 1997. We can math at this! We know Evangelyne is 16 in the flashback and after the disappearances she is described as "a heavyset woman of almost forty". That would set the disappearances in a 2019/2020 time frame, which means my speculation about the "2019" in the web address for "The Men" ( being the year was right! You have no idea how excited this makes me. If you're curious what the teens were singing on the radio in 1997, well so was I. Thanks, Google.

Anyway. Evangelyne enjoys her puppy love relationship with Poppy until one fateful day when she tells Poppy about ancient Yoruba rituals in which animals and sometimes people were ritually sacrificed. Poppy--who is bipolar, hears voices that she calls "demons", and is often unmedicated--misunderstands and thinks that Evangelyne's family practices these sacrifices. Evangelyne insists that they only sacrifice chickens, never people, but Poppy tells her white family about the conversation. They decide to believe that the Black religious group are dangerous Satanists, and also possibly sex traffickers from Baltimore, because of racism.

This day Evangelyne was explaining how the Yoruba king was buried with scores of other people, who were sacrificed so they could continue to serve him in the other world. There were many titles at court that required a person to die with the king, and the strange thing was that people fought for those titles. They would happily pay for high status with early death. Of course, sacrifice was part of their culture. For important rituals, Yoruba royals would sacrifice a series of creatures: a cow, then a dog, then a snail, then a bird, and a boy and a girl to round it out. Here, seeing Poppy’s face, Evangelyne balked and said human sacrifice was creepy, but it wasn’t just African. Most people knew about the Aztecs and the Incas, and Slavs and British Druids did it too. Even ancient Greeks had done it. They had a thing called a “hecatomb,” which meant killing a hundred cattle as a sacrifice, and some scholars thought those sacrifices were originally of a hundred people. By this point, Evangelyne wasn’t sure what she was saying was true. She just needed to change Poppy’s face.

“Uncle lost his shit. He says, ‘That’s Satanism, that’s demon worship,’ like he’s suddenly a Christian? What?” Poppy laughed. “And my mom’s all crying, like she only now discovered I’m a lesbian, and maybe that’s Satanic? Says the lady who sleeps with her uncle!” Evangelyne tried to smile, but she felt nauseated from the run. “I told them what you said about eating chickens, and Uncle’s like, ‘Eat every damn chicken in the world, but if you burn it to an idol, you’re a Satanist.’ He thinks every cult is Satan worship. Like, I asked him if the Moonies worshipped Satan, and he says, ‘Hell yes.’” “You’re talking about . . . You didn’t tell them about the human sacrifice?” “I said how you said ancient Greeks did it, and I’m pretty sure he thinks ancient Greeks are a cult now.” “You know we don’t believe in human sacrifice. You told them that?” “I know you don’t.” “Also ARRI’s not a cult.” Saying this, Evangelyne felt a scruple. She herself had often complained to her mother that ARRI was a cult. They were people trying to change the world by chanting in languages they didn’t speak and praying to statues they’d ordered from a catalog. All her life, she’d been ashamed to bring friends home.

The reason Evangelyne puts up with this treatment from Poppy, and the reason she credits Poppy with being "the white girl who taught Evangelyne what white meant" is because at 16 years old, genius though she is, she "didn't yet understand racism". She had decided that a few slurs at school were nothing much because all kids say vicious things, and that "racist" was an accusation adults came up with to stop you from having fun.

But she also remembered staying there all day while Poppy raved about being sacrificed—hours of holding Poppy and soothing her, lying on the old musty mattress on the tree house floor. That day Evangelyne explained again and again why it didn’t make sense to think people sacrificed their neighbors in Vermont in 1997, why it didn’t make sense to believe ARRI men were pimps from Baltimore, why Poppy shouldn’t go around saying these things—just the first of many days Evangelyne spent trying to talk Poppy Beacham out of being insane. Looking back, there were two reasons Evangelyne fell into this trap. The first was that she didn’t yet understand racism. To her, it was a dubious entity, something exaggerated by adults to stop kids from going out and doing things. When Evangelyne and her brothers were growing up, there was a neighbors’ house they were banned from because the parents were supposedly racist; Evangelyne and Giovanni sneaked there once to hang out with the sons of the family and found it thrillingly had MTV, Nintendo, deviled-ham sandwiches on Wonder bread, Playboys, and a picture of Jesus with a glowing heart visible through his clothes. There was a thing going on (Evangelyne and Giovanni agreed) where the adults were afraid they would hang with redneck kids and pick up their habits, and so those people got called “racist.” It was true that local kids had called them racial slurs, but kids said every nasty thing, even when they didn’t know what it meant. One white girl had cracked Giovanni up by saying his NYU hoodie was “ghetto.” And maybe that was racist, but it wasn’t real racism, not the kind that hurt people.

Now, look, I said before that I'm white so please take everything I'm about to say with a massive grain of salt. But I've watched so many Black parents talk about the hard conversations they've had to have with their very very young children about racism and how to stay safe in America from racist white people. Evangelyne is a brilliant young girl whose parents are college professors with deep interests and ties into Black culture, history, and civil rights. They have lived through the Rodney King trial and Los Angeles riots of 1992. They must have surely followed the O.J. Simpson murder case in 1994. Bill Clinton is president at this time and in less than a year from now (1998) Toni Morrison will call him "the first Black president" because of his support in the Black community and his focus on civil rights--a major reason Republicans hated him and his wife so very much.

Clinton drew strong support from the African American community and made improving race relations a major theme of his presidency.[23] In 1998, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison in The New Yorker called Clinton "the first Black president", saying, "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas," and comparing Clinton's sex life, scrutinized despite his career accomplishments, to the stereotyping and double standards that blacks typically endure.[24]

How, in the midst of all this politicization of Blackness, has Evangelyne internalized at 16 that racism is nothing more than nasty names hurled harmlessly by schoolyard bullies (the example in-text given being "ghetto") and nice "redneck" families who served delicious sandwiches on Wonder bread? I'm not saying no Black child could pull this off, but (a) it doesn't fit the profile of Evangelyne and her family and (b) I'm not sure a white woman should be writing a Black character this way.

[TW: Rape, Cop Brutality] If you've read my Lesbian Representation post, you know what's coming next. Poppy calls on Evangelyne to help her, saying that her uncle is raping her at night but that he has friends with the cops so she can't rely on them to help a mentally ill girl. Evangelyne agrees to come pick up Poppy and her brother and their two best friends--three young Black men--all agree that the absolute best and wisest course of action is to drive secretly over to a racist white man's house, sneak around on the lawn, and help his white niece escape.

Evangelyne gripped the phone. “My brother drives. I could ask—” “Oh my god! You’re an angel. Oh my god, thank you. Just get me out of here, and I swear I’ll never ask you for anything again.” Evangelyne ran out onto the lawn. By the time she reached Giovanni and Paul, she’d already decided they had to go. She told the story in that mood. She used the word “rape” and talked about the dogs being drugged, about Poppy waking up half naked. She was ready for Giovanni and Paul to resist and dismiss this as more crazy shit. But both boys became very serious and noble. Speed was of the essence, they agreed. It was perfect that Poppy was going to a hospital; it would keep her safe and away from Evangelyne, plus she could get real help. Paul ran into the house to get Jay, and before Evangelyne was ready, they were driving to Poppy’s, through a night that now felt wild and warlike. They were heroes on a rescue mission. It was real.

Poppy is, as I mentioned, unmedicated for her bipolar condition. She is also suffering severe PTSD from having been raped repeatedly by her Uncle and his friend--a stranger to her. She does not know the three young men that Evangelyne is bringing over, and has not been warned about them. When she sees three strange men in the yard waiting for her she screams and runs back to the house in a panic.

Poppy dropped lightly to her feet and turned to Evangelyne with a broad, thrilled grin. Then she noticed the boys and stiffened. Evangelyne whispered hastily, “It’s cool, it’s just my brother and—” Before she could finish, Poppy was screaming. Because they were teenage kids, they laughed. It was a nervous giggling they tried to suppress, and it terrified Poppy more. Poppy leaped back for her window, clinging to the windowsill a moment, shrieking, “Help! Help!” like a cartoon character. Lights went on in the house. There were voices and thudding footsteps, a cacophony of furious barking. Then Poppy flung up a leg, hoisted herself with startling sudden power, and vanished. Evangelyne still hadn’t moved. She had some idea of confronting Debbie and Uncle and telling them Poppy had to go to the hospital. With the boys there, she felt safe. The front door opened. Giovanni was already pulling at Evangelyne’s arm when Uncle appeared on the doorstep, wearing his familiar gray bathrobe, with a pistol in his hand.

The youths escape miraculously unharmed and decide it would be best if the adults weren't told about the night's events. No one thinks there will be any consequences for what happened, even though they all know that Poppy has been telling her family in her confused, garbled way about the "Yoruba sacrifices" and the violent racist uncle with cop friends believes the Black family to all be Satanists.

They agreed they’d better not tell anyone. They were world-class fools for believing in all Poppy’s psycho shit. Giovanni said, “Tell me that’s not all lesbians.” At this Evangelyne laughed so hard she keeled over onto Jay, who laughingly shoved her away, saying, “I don’t want no lesbian on me! Y’all got crazy cooties! Help! Help!” They all started shrieking “Help! Help!” again, laughing, while Giovanni weaved all over the empty road for no particular reason, honking the horn. Evangelyne felt restored to life. It was done. She’d tried, and Poppy had screamed and run away and almost got her killed—almost got her brother killed. Evangelyne was free now. Giovanni forgave her. In a year, she would go to Cornell.

[TW: Cop Violence] The community ratchets up the racism against the Black home, and ultimately the cops violently raid the place in a manner reminiscent of the Waco Texas raid against the Branch Davidians. Evangelyne is the only survivor and is sent to prison for killing two cops. In prison she is surrounded by white women who range from basically decent to ones who "treated her like their own child".

During the weeks of the investigation, local attitudes toward ARRI hardened. The darkest rumors were now widely accepted as confirmed. Now there were hand-delivered threats in ARRI’s mailbox every morning. Once there was a noose, and another time someone shot at the house from a passing car. The police were called after that incident but said there was nothing they could do. In the final week, ARRI posted armed guards at front and back, which were seen by law enforcement as a red flag. Police plans for the raid on the house took on a military aspect. Meanwhile, Poppy Beacham had become nonverbal and was finally admitted to a hospital in Burlington. Debbie told the jury at Evangelyne’s trial, “My daughter always had problems, but nothing like that. Nothing like, she can’t talk. So I’ll never know what those animals did to her, but I didn’t want it happening to anyone else.” And one summer morning, just before dawn, Evangelyne Moreau was woken by gunfire. She would remember scrambling out of her bunk into darkness, noise, glass shattering, air filled with plaster dust. She was blind and gasping, crawling on all fours with plaster raining down on her head. After that, her memory was patchy. She wouldn’t remember how she got up. When she tried to remember killing the cops, the image would always be of a cartoon cop who evaporated neatly as the bullet hit. But she knows she didn’t initiate the gunfire, because she took the gun she used from the body of her brother Giovanni. Jay lay beside him, screaming; one of his eyes and a chunk of his face were gone. The window above them was shattered, open to the air. As she rose into it, she was thinking, As if a window would protect you.

mimicking her when she tried to chant in Yoruba. She also spent a lot of that year crying about her problems to other inmates, which went surprisingly well, considering that 90 percent of them were white and 100 percent had their own problems. A lot of COs taunted her and kicked her around—she was a cop killer, after all—but there were prisoners who treated her like their own child. People are a lot of things.

In prison she writes a book which is published by white people and catapults her out of jail and into college. She never experiences police violence again, as far as I can tell, until the night of her death when the white head of her Home Owners Association (HOA) calls the cops on her for trivial reasons. I would have thought that cops would keep tabs on a Black woman who killed two cops and got out early, but in this world that apparently does not happen. She becomes a political celebrity on campus and dates a series of girls who consider her a veritable messiah.

Evangelyne’s looks were unremarkable. She had chubby cheeks and a low forehead, a little flat nose that had been broken twice, a crooked tooth in front. She was considered overweight in the world before. She wore her hair natural but neglected it; often you could tell which side she’d slept on. Some women made a point of calling her beautiful, but no one called her pretty. She did have upright military posture, which, combined with her voluptuous shape, made an outline that drew the eye pleasantly. Her mouth smiled in repose and was subtly ungainly, the upper lip bigger than the lower. She was the most unforgettable-looking woman I ever saw, but men never saw her. They only saw Evangelyne’s ass. She was tall, but not as tall as me. From a distance, she could seem average height, but when she walked up to you, you felt it. I’d never known her when she wasn’t someone’s Chosen One.

Here is how she meets Jane, the white protagonist: Jane unknowingly attends a core college class which several Black women students had arranged to be an all-Black-woman class so that they could have a place free from whiteness. When Evangelyne goes to confront Jane afterwards and politely ask her to drop the class, Jane panics and assumes Evangelyne recognizes Jane as a registered sex offender. So... she runs away, literally, and Evangelyne gives chase.

Nonetheless, I was surprised to see that all the other students and the professor were Black women. I balked on the threshold. All the students looked up. Seeing me, their faces soured and they exchanged significant glances. At first I thought I’d betrayed my bewilderment in some racist way. Then I realized I was me, Jane Pearson. I bumped into the doorframe coming in and made my way to the last free chair in a daze. The students had all looked away again, it seemed to me angrily. Most had phones in their hands. A flurry of texting broke out in the room. There were three solid minutes of evil silence before the class began. In that time, I sweated through my antiperspirant and was conscious of the underwear I was wearing, already sodden with sweat. At last, the professor handed out the syllabus and began to talk us through it, but I couldn’t concentrate against the hostility, against the certainty that I was detested, and that all my classes would be like this. The instant class ended, I bolted from my chair, but as I hurried down the stairs, I noticed another student had rushed out after me. Where the stairs turned, I saw her above: a big, solid woman who looked about thirty, staring directly at me. That feeling of pursuit made me weak all over—Jane, why don’t you want to talk to me, Jane?—and when I got outside, I broke into a run. Improbably, she broke into a run behind me. It became a real chase, us running and dodging other people on the sidewalk. There was a certain satisfaction in running full

When Evangelyne realizes that Jane was afraid of her not for racist white woman reasons but for I'm-a-registered-sex-offender reasons, she falls instantly in love with the "pure" and "gentle" Jane. Jane herself believes the "pure" and "gentle" stuff to be self-aware overkill designed to milk money from white readers seeking forgiveness in Evangelyne's words; Evangelyne insists that the words are how she really feels and love is overwrought like that. The reader is left to decide who is right.

This is how my father and I became estranged. A year after Evangelyne stopped being my friend—a year in which I was pregnant and then had a newborn while still attending college, when I was engrossed and overwhelmed—Evangelyne wrote an essay about our friendship. It was first published in the New Yorker and became their most read story of that year. It was later reprinted in various anthologies and in the Evangelyne K. Moreau Reader. After On Commensalism, it’s the work for which Evangelyne is most well-known, and the version of Jane Pearson in the essay has gradually eclipsed my former fame. The essay is called “The White Girl.” It begins with Evangelyne’s arrival at Santa Cruz and her first encounters with white students, which were almost uniformly bad. Some treated her like an unexploded bomb. Some familiarly patted her on the head. They were always asking her where to buy drugs. She told one white guy she’d been accepted at Santa Cruz straight from prison with only a GED, expecting him to be appropriately impressed. He said, “Well, the bar’s way higher if you’re white.” The week her book deal was announced, a white girl told her it was ironic her career wouldn’t exist without racism, since that was the subject of her writing. It wasn’t the subject of her writing. This was where she was at when I walked into her Approaches to Black Studies class.

Here she told the story of our first meeting: how I’d run away from her in the street, and she’d felt like she was going crazy. She’d given chase and run me down as if she could finally corner whiteness, confront it and make it face its lies. When I agreed to withdraw from the class, she assumed it was just my way of escaping the class of scary Black girls. For that minute, she was in the dystopian world of the old Nation of Islam, where whites were perversities, the botched results of a malign experiment, eternal antagonists to real human beings. Then I said the words “Jane Pearson,” and the scales fell from her eyes. I was none of that, and she was a self-centered fool. On the spot, she fell in love. Here in the essay, Evangelyne told my story the way she always told it: I was a victim of sexual abuse who’d been blamed for the crimes of a powerful male. Then she talked about our romantic friendship and how I’d haplessly broken her heart. In this section, I’m described through the eyes of love, which I find saccharine and mortifying. She uses words like “pure” and “gentle.” There’s a metaphor about a stained-glass window. She has us riding those horses in Wunderlich Park—in her version, Dingo isn’t sick—so there’s an image of me in sad, lost beauty, galloping on a horse with a streaming mane through a sun-dappled, primeval forest.

Predictably, this is the section from which people love to quote. I’ve even seen an Instagram photo of someone with the whole stainedglass quote tattooed on her shoulder. I didn’t take this section at face value. I’d often helped Evangelyne with essays written for mainstream publications, and I knew what a tenuous connection there could be between the sentiments in an essay and an author’s actual thoughts. Evangelyne knew white audiences craved forgiveness from Black people, and she could be very crafty about trading gestures of forgiveness for things of real economic value; she could easily turn a stained-glass metaphor into a stream of cash donations. The word “pure” was especially fishy and likely to be a practical joke on unsuspecting white readers, who wouldn’t see anything odd in the association of whiteness and purity.

just seemed sentimental. She scoffed and said, “So the essay was bad?” I pointed out that we hadn’t gone riding that day because her horse was sick. She said, “They had more than one horse. We went out riding, Jane.” I said, “But I feel like the word ‘pure’ plays into stereotypes about whiteness?” She said, “Now I’m racist? What?” I started crying, which always annoyed her but which I couldn’t help. I tried to explain that she was smarter than me, and it sometimes made her motivations opaque, so I naturally started imagining things. She said, “That’s bullshit, Jane. If a man had written that essay, you’d be able to hear it. It’s not rocket science. It’s love.”

[TW: CSA] I've talk about Jane's sex offenses in earlier essays but it needs to be repeated here: an older man of color named Alain groomed her to fall in love with him. Once she was emotionally under his control, he bullied and emotionally abused her into "seducing" young boys and letting them penetrate her sexually while Alain watched. Jane took a passive role in the bedroom and let the boys be on top, but this is rape and not sex: the boys are absolutely too young to consent. Most of them are also underprivileged boys of color from foreign countries who Alain sends back so they can't report what happened to anyone.

As everyone knew at one time, but has now mercifully forgotten, Alain Cornyn was the founder and director of the Baltimore Youth Ballet. BYB was created to allow young dancers, ages fourteen to eighteen, to dance professionally and get exposure, experience, and a paycheck early in their careers. All the principal roles were danced by teens. There were tutors for all school subjects, and I know there must have been classes sometimes, but I have no conscious memory of them. Alain was from a very rich family, and the company was funded by their wealthy friends. It was prehistoric white Baltimore money, some of which derived from the transatlantic slave trade. Alain liked to confess this, making much of the Arab side of his heritage and talking about black sheep. BYB championed diversity, of course, and had a program that recruited disadvantaged kids from countries like Brazil and Kenya. Many people in the dance world hated Alain, but at the time, he was untouchable: a hero of the arts.

Alain was a voyeur. He didn’t like being touched. Despite all that’s been said, I never saw him do anything sexual to a boy. None of the boys ever saw him naked. The fucking was all me, a fact that would later make him difficult to prosecute. He also prompted me to find the boys. Sometimes he made an introduction, but sometimes he just talked insinuatingly about being bored and said, “But I know I can count on you.” After a while, I became a professional. I giggled and flattered and touched boys’ chests; it was easy when it wasn’t my idea. Once a boy was alone with us, however, I fell into a wordless state where I couldn’t do anything without direction. The boys too were crippled with embarrassment, and it’s still remarkable to me how subtly Alain could manage us. A hint dropped here, an assumption made there, almost always achieved his desired result. He made me part of his game of “corrupting youth” and openly talked about preferring young boys. I played along; I would huddle with him in corridors and laugh about our “Ganymedes.” He led me to agree there was just no challenge in fucking an eighteen-year-old “man” and taught me to see sex with a fourteen-year-old as a hilarious gotcha to the uptight world. He talked about “raiding the international program,” saying American dancers all lived in the pockets of “Mommy and Daddy,” while the age of consent in most countries was fourteen and no one batted an eyelid. Still, I noticed that, after I’d fucked an international boy, Alain always found some reason to fire him and send him back to his home country.

Jane is presented to the readers as a victim and she is... of some things. Alain emotionally and verbally abused her, and was a skilled manipulator who started on her when she was just a child of eleven and had just joined the troupe. But she is still guilty of raping young Black and brown boys when she is eighteen and they are significantly younger. Jane never meaningfully comes to terms with her culpability for this. Indeed, she ends the novel *blaming* them alongside Alain for her victimization; Alain, for putting her in the hotel rooms with those boys, and the boys for being willing to fuck her but unwilling to defend her in court when she is put on trial for raping them.

These are the two white women, then, who Evangelyne loves: Poppy, whose racism led to the death of Evangelyne's entire family and Jane, who raped Black and brown boys and watched them be sent back home in shame, their dreams ruined and opportunities dashed. We certainly can't say the book "ignores" white women's complicity in racial violence, but how does the book depict that culpability?

Poppy is a complicated mess of mental illnesses, and it's unclear how lucid she was when she told her family about the Yoruba conversation with Evangelyne. After she is startled by the young men in her yard she lapses into a non-verbal PTSD episode which requires extensive hospitalization, so she can't even explain that the Black teens didn't harm her. Evangelyne blames her for the incident, but narratively the book could not bend over further to make this an "accident" of mental illness and abuse on Poppy's part, with the bear share of the racism coming from the uncle and cops. White men, in other words.

[TW: Rape] Jane is described as even more innocent than Poppy. Her sentence is presented to us as hugely, unfairly disproportionate to her crimes: her life is ruined, people spit on her in the streets, she is a pariah and free for all of humankind to abuse. A police officer rapes her and Jane worries that she'll be used freely by all the cops; she is relieved when they replace her rapist with a polite elderly officer who does not approve of what the other man has done. The cops, we see, aren't willing to arrest one of their own with no evidence, but they *will* take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.

In sixteenth-century Germany, there was a legal concept, vogelfrei, which literally translates as “bird-free.” When an outlaw was pronounced vogelfrei, they lost the protection of the law: “His body should be free and accessible to all people and beasts, to the birds in the air and the fish in water, so that none can be made liable for any crimes committed against him.” It was one of the ideas I was introduced to by Alain, and when I first read about it, I thought of a rebel living in the woods in defiant solitude and imagined myself the fearless girl who crept out to his bed. Sometimes in the daydream, we lived among a band of the vogelfrei in a lawless Eden. In another version, I was vogelfrei alone, a noble recluse who drank from streams, set snares for game, and needed no one. I lived in Spokane for seven months while the prosecutors pressured me to admit to imaginary crimes. All that time I was vogelfrei. My father came out to help me find an apartment, then had to leave to get back to work. The first few months, we couldn’t afford a mattress; I slept on a towel spread on the carpet. I lived on ramen and supermarketbrand cookies. Early on, I broke my foot trying to dance in the parking lot and had a meltdown at the ER when they said it needed surgery, sobbing that I couldn’t afford it, until they sent me home with a boot. As a sex offender, I couldn’t be in a school. My probation officer told me I had to get a job, but he had no useful advice for how to do this as a famous pedophile with no high school diploma and a broken foot.

The questions at first seemed harmless. Had Alain been a bad person in other ways? Did I think he was the way he was because he came from such a rich family? Would I say he was a sociopath? They were questions I’d often pondered, and I ended up talking gushingly, with the relief of speaking after long isolation. But then the questions changed. Would I do anything Alain asked me to, or were there limits? Did he ever tie me up? Did he make me take on two guys at once? Did I get off on the sex? Carried forward by momentum, I answered. I was cautiously truthful from the now-ingrained habit of avoiding the risk of perjury, and as I answered the final question—“It was sex. I enjoyed it like sex, sometimes”—I saw his slack and gloating face and knew. The officer took the next exit, not my exit, and soon we were driving through forest. He knew where he was going, a pull-off for logging access, where he could park just out of sight of the road. Presumably he’d taken women there before. He didn’t try to dress it up. He undid his belt and said, “I want you to suck my dick, can you do that?” When I balked, he said, “Don’t tell me you don’t want to. Believe me, don’t.”

if some journalist could drive me home. At times, I lost my grip on reality and believed the prosecutor’s office was in on it, that I’d be kept indefinitely in Spokane for the use of all the cops and prosecutors and their cronies. Meanwhile I was answering questions about the boys I’d fucked for Alain, with Alain watching as he always had. But at the end of that day, I was met outside by an elderly retired policeman, a frail, diminutive man who explained who he was without meeting my eye. He said he’d been asked to see me home. As we walked to his car, he kept a careful distance, moving with a certain squeamishness, and it gradually dawned on me that he knew. The blow-job cop must have boasted to someone on the force, and news had spread. Presumably this old man was taking me home because they trusted him not to touch me: there was still a line, and the blow-job cop had crossed it. I started crying, and all the way home I quietly cried in the car’s dull heating, too furious and sorry for myself to hide it. Beside me, the old cop slowly changed, his face opening with pity like a flower, suffering. As I got out of the car, he said, “You take care of yourself. You’re a lovely girl.”

Evangelyne herself proclaims Jane innocent of all wrongdoing: "I was a victim of sexual abuse who'd been blamed for the crimes of a powerful male." She doesn't see Jane's whiteness protecting her from being thrown into jail forever, the way a Black woman would be. Nor does she see the broken lives of Black men in Jane's story, and the way Jane helped to rape and abuse them. She insists to the reader, and to Jane, that Jane is "pure". She insists that she means it, and that she loves Jane for that purity. I don't know what to make of that, but I don't like it.

From here, you know how the story ends if you've read my earlier reviews. Jane has to choose between Evangelyne and her husband, and either chooses Leo or fails to choose Evangelyne in time for the hell-door to close--I really do not know which interpretation is intended. Jane wakes up and the event has been reduced to a dream. Knowing that Evangelyne is moments away from being killed by cops, she moseys into town and eventually pulls out her cell phone in an attempt to warn her. But she is too late. Fox News already has the story. There is a very weird "joke" about search engines that I have no idea what to make of. If this is supposed to be an unwelcome intrusive thought, it's the only one Jane has had in the book.

files from the last ten years. The search term that finally worked was Evangelyne Moreau Santa Monica shooting LAPD. The video shows a residential street in Santa Monica. It’s nighttime. The lighting and the colors are unstable with pulses of police car lights. Police barriers hold the camera at a distance. About a dozen cop cars fill the street haphazardly, at every angle, as if carried in on a tide. A few are parked directly on a lawn, and officers stand in clusters on that same lawn. More cops stand in a spaced line at the barrier, facing toward the camera. These hold shields and wear helmets with bulbous plastic masks that obscure their faces. Some carry rifles; one has a bouquet of white zip ties at his belt. All the police wear so much equipment and body armor that their black shapes are distorted. They are outsized creatures not quite like men. They do nothing at all and don’t speak. They stand. This too makes them seem not human. On our side of the barrier is a thin crowd of people. One elderly woman stands with her hands folded, held to her nose; she is praying. The others are in constant motion, milling around and shouting, sometimes briefly joining in a chant. The focus of attention is the lawn and, behind it, a one-story house in the modern style. This house is lit spectrally by what is probably a motion-sensor light. One of its windows is broken. The front door is entirely gone, and the gap is crisscrossed by police tape. On the doorstep, something is sloppily covered by a white plastic sheet: a body. One bare foot is exposed, turned sideways. In the weird light, Evangelyne’s sole looks red. I can’t tell if this is blood or an effect of the light. Nobody goes near her. Minutes pass and the sheet doesn’t move.

I turned the phone off and sat for a long time staring at the pizzeria. The Fox News screens were now showing footage of a forest fire: a towering mass of smoke with a slender leading edge of orange. The little boy in the booth was holding obediently still while his mother used a napkin to clean his face. By this time, I was very dissociated and my mind kept trying to think of jokes about search engine optimization for police shootings. I was sobbing. Like many people with a history of trauma, I cry a great deal. I can cry while feeling nothing. It cheapens the experience. It confuses it. The man who had entered the pizzeria came back out, shouldering open the door and sliding across it to maneuver a large pizza box out with him. He came across the parking lot toward my car. He was looking directly at me, and my hand automatically went to the ignition. It still sometimes happened that strangers confronted me, called me a pedophile, filmed me on their phones while they told me to shoot myself. But as he came closer, the man put on an exaggerated face of concern and cocked his head. He was checking that I was all right. I smiled and raised my phone to communicate: I’m talking on my phone. This seemed to be enough. He smiled back, looking as if a weight had been lifted, and turned away. Some men are instinctively compassionate, as women are; this was something I’d forgotten and it took my breath away. I started the car again.

There is one more thing on race and Blackness which needs to be said, and it is part of those strange hell-world scenes. When the men turn on their children and eat them, the narrative makes a big point of making sure we know that the first cannibalistic group is composed of Black men who are "ethnically West African".

3. This is the first of the massacre clips. It shows one circle, most of whose members will be eventually traced to Paris, though they’re ethnically West African. It begins with the men vibrating, then all the men spring onto the child. The area around them darkens, speckling and dimming the luminous colors. When I first notice this, I think, That’s meant to represent blood. It’s too maroon to be real blood, and the effect is darkly comical because the men all rear their buttocks in the air. It’s like a spoof of nature programs in which wild carnivores feast on a kill. This makes it more macabre, not less.

Since there are so many, once they fall on Benjamin, nothing can be seen of him but blood. Here the blood is obviously real, perhaps because it is my child’s. Only Leo does not attack him. Throughout, Leo stares into the air, trembling violently. At the time, no one knows this behavior is unusual, that in most massacre clips where a father is present, he will take part in eating his son. When Leo does break free, he doesn’t move to rescue Benjamin. Instead, he lurches into the river just as the water’s surface erupts in splashing, heaving movement. In the final seconds of the clip, we see that this is caused by the sudden arrival of dozens of huge aquatic creatures. In the last frame, the river has entirely vanished, replaced by a wall of seething tentacles. I didn’t watch the credits at that time. When I did comb through them later, I found what I already knew. Three of the men in the clip of Benjamin’s murder were boys I’d fucked for Alain, now adults. Another was a juror from Alain’s trial. Another was a pharmacist who’d filled a prescription for me once at a CVS, and another was my ninth-grade homeroom teacher. Two more were waiters from restaurants I’d eaten at, and three were men I’d seen around Santa Cruz but never spoken to. The twelfth man was my father.

This scene is either a morality test wherein some of the men are able to overcome the urge to consume the children and are passed on to the next level to continue their escape OR it is a test of the commitment and pity of the womanly watchers--the "Lot's Wives" who are holding open the door back. If it is the latter, then we must assume that sufficient womanly attention and pity is what grants the men the power to overcome their animalistic urges.

Either the Black men fail the test of character, or a Black woman has somewhere failed to pay sufficient attention to her men. Yet that seems almost laughable on the face of it, since Leo is able to resist and this is Jane's *first time* watching "The Men". If the attention and love of a first-timer is enough to save Leo, then surely whichever Black woman these men are associated with should be able to love one of them enough? Is Leo saved because Jane is "pure" when others are not? Or is Leo good and moral enough to resist because he is white? The races of the other men in Leo's circle are not noted, but three of them were Jane's former victims. And many (most?) of her victims were not white.

I'll end this here and I'm not sure if I'll be able to continue much farther. There are still plenty of representation issues that I haven't touched on (Blanca's stay in a children's hospital in Texas was FAR from my own experience in a children's hospital in Texas) but I'm not sure how much more of this book I can take. Fare well tonight and thank you for reading.

Um. Because the three distinct and different harassment waves I've endured since I began reviewing this book have made me nervous, I want to point out that I have been doing "book metrics" since 2011. Measuring how often characters talk is a thing I do.

Words Spoken by the Pevensie Children in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe  Lucy 31% Peter 29% Edmund 21% Susan 19%

Just in case someone starts pulling out Mean Girls gifs again and accuses me of being obsessive for this particular author. I've been writing about CS Lewis for 11 years and counting. I'm autistic and thorough.


Post a Comment