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Posts Tagged ‘Robertson Davies’

Staff Picks: Blackass, Academic Robes, Floppy Disks

April 29, 2016 | by

Photo: Anil Dash

There’s a scene in The Producers in which Max Bialystock finds Kafka’s Metamorphosis as a script and rejects after reading the first line; “It’s too good,” he complains. I thought of this as I began reading A. Igoni Barrett’s novel Blackass, which takes Gregor Samsa’s experience as its starting point: Furo Wariboko wakes to discover that he has metamorphosed from a black Nigerian to a white Nigerian, which is a sort of person who doesn’t really exist. It’s hard to improve on Kafka’s original, but, luckily, that isn’t Barrett’s aim. Furo’s transformation into an impossible creature puts him in a unique position: he is white, and so has a natural power over his black countrymen, and he can speak Nigerian pidgin, which gives him influence with that same group; he is feared and respected. In Furo’s navigation from one of Lagos’s many struggling unemployed young people to a man of privilege and agency, Barrett deftly transmutes him from metaphor into full-fledged character. Barrett also employs a handful of secondary characters who metamorphose in other, less spectacular ways that are likewise tied to issues of race, gender, money, and status. (I thought, too, of Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, another novel that mixes reality and the fantastical to great effect.) The freedom that reinvention engenders proves intoxicating. As one character marvels, “I was whoever I wanted me to be.” —Nicole Rudick

I trust you weren’t expecting me to discuss anyone or anything other than Prince this week. I’d like to share three of the many remembrances that have moved me to tears. First is the story of a floppy disk that Prince distributed to the press in 1993, when he’d changed his name to the unpronounceable Love Symbol: the disk contained a font allowing journalists to type the glyph in place of his name. (“It just seemed like a logical thing to do,” his graphic designer said.) Second is an interview with his personal chef, Ray Roberts, who reveals Prince’s favorite desserts; while Ray was cooking, he often overheard Prince in diligent rehearsal. (“The kitchen was adjacent to the sound studio, so the biggest treat of all for Ray was hearing the music, every day, loud and clear in the kitchen … He says Prince would regularly play three seconds of a song, dozens of times in a row, to get it right.”) And the third is D’Angelo’s performance of “Sometimes It Snows in April” from the Tonight Show this week, which reduced me to a puddle. Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad … —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

My Manticore

May 24, 2011 | by

Illustration by Berkley Illustration.

When I was in my midtwenties, my apartment acquired a stuffed Canada goose, mounted in full flight. Although this was around the time when taxidermy was becoming obligatory for a certain breed of sepia-toned downtown restaurant, there was nothing ironic about ours, which my then boyfriend had shot himself on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The less said about his hunting proclivities the better—and I’m sure you could say all sorts of obvious things that were later borne out—but I liked that the goose had a provenance, which is a true urban rarity.

We named him Manticore, after the Robertson Davies novel (he was, after all, Canadian) and generally assumed he would be a whimsical addition to the household. How wrong we were. Manticore, it soon turned out, was a dreary and oppressive presence. Somehow, he became indelibly endowed, in our minds, with a humorless earnestness. It started as a joke but quickly took on a life of its own. We imagined him policing our conversations, interjecting superior opinions, and staring down judgmentally with his glassy eyes. Manticore, we somehow sensed, had strong and implacable opinions on matters like universal healthcare and, possibly, 9/11 conspiracies. He disapproved of levity. He would have been heavily involved in experimental theater, if he hadn’t been a stuffed goose. I grew to hate Manticore.

Initially, I’d thought Manticore would be an integral part of decorating schemes, gamely donning scarves and garlands as the season dictated. When I knew him better, this was out of the question—say what one will about the goose, he had a certain dignity. We might strip him of life, we might force him into unwilling cohabitation, but somehow he would maintain the autonomy of the wild.

When the relationship ended, Manticore took up residence in my former boyfriend’s new bachelor pad, where—since it was a studio—he loomed large. I took a certain petty pleasure in imagining the chilling effect his self-righteousness would exact on any romantic prospects. Or perhaps he’d find another woman more to his liking. Manticore, I sensed, had disapproved of me.

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