book review: I am not sidney poitier, percival everett
Apparently, moving immediately from reading YA fiction to literary fiction can actually be done without breaking my brain!
I’ve read Percival Everett before. His novel Erasure was quite unlike anything I’d ever read. Until this one, which is again unlike anything I’ve ever read. The best word I can use to describe I am Not Sidney Poitier is meta.
Now I’m not a huge fan of the term meta, but it fits. See, Percival Everett is a character in his own novel. Not the main character, but the main character’s sometimes-wise college professor and mentor. It’s a great self-insertion and simply continues Everett’s ability to blur the lines of reality and fiction, which is something he does beautifully in Erasure as well.
I am Not Sidney Poitier is about a young man, Not Sidney Poitier, who’s single mother’s story about her pregnancy and Not Sidney’s birth was taken straight from the pages of a magical realist’s novel. His story continues along that same vein, living a life under the wing of TV and business mogul Ted Turner. As with Erasure, a lot of the novel deals with the fact that Not Sidney is black. He finds himself falling into all the stereotypes: dropping out of school, meeting racists, getting arrested for being black.
It’s not my usual reading. I picked it up because I had read the other book for grad school. But it’s brilliant. Like I wish I had the confidence and self-assurance with my writing to just go at it like Everett does. The prose is elegant when it needs to be, perfectly in Not Sidney’s voice all the time, and the plot is highly entertaining. I think I get stuck on books that have a here-to-there plot.
Instead, I am Not Sidney Poitier is like an extended character study. Well, it’s more than that. There is a here-to-there element but unlike the YA novels I read that have plots and romance and obvious tension and climaxes and a certain feeling of having seen something happen, this novel is instead a story of humanity, of race, of youth, of love, and of family (both biological and not).