Friday, September 04, 2009

Victor LaValle, The Ecstatic

Victor LaValle, The Ecstatic. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.
Trade paperback, 276 pps.

The Ecstatic is a different kind of book. The narrator is a fat, black, and
crazy college drop-out named Anthony who comes home to his mother who
had traded Haldol (registered trademark, no copyright infringement
intended) in for thin living via vegetarianism, his 13 year old sister
Niasase who fought viciously with his mother and also entered beauty
pageants, and his feisty 93 year grandmother who did not hesitate to
call the cops on either her daughter or her grandaughter. Actually,
Anthony doesn't come home. Urged on by his younger sister, all
three family members show up at his rented room in Ithaca to find
that Anthony is not mentally well. Instead of admission to the nearest
nut ward, Anthony is installed in the family basement and watched
over until once again he becomes an impaired but functioning member
of society.

There is sex in the book. Anthony picks up Lorraine, a fat woman with
ambition on the subway and there is a brief two week interlude of failed
love. Niasase also has her day in a movie theater, much to Anthony's
horror. Besides sex, there is the neighborhood loan shark and a preacher.
The preacher, Uncle Armes, is responsible for the beauty pageant held in
small town Lumpkin, Virginia for teen girls who are virginal and have
allegedly fallen upon hard times. Naisase wins the hearts of the audience
by declaring that she and her grandmother-- strapped to Naisase's back
due to a bruised hip-- are both "orphaned." Anthony finds out that Uncle
Armes is a fraud. In return for his knowledge, Uncle Armes offers to allow
Naisase to win the pageant if Anthony opens the door to some protesters
outside the auditorium. Anthony agrees and gets hated for it later on.

Between a flooded hotel room and a pack of neighborhood dogs intent upon
biting whoever they can; between Mom's burgeoning collection of dog
statuary and Anthony's job cleaning up moldy abestos; between the ill-fated
barbecue and the ill-fated visit to the local fat clinic, there is much laughter
in this book. Yet the laughter rings hollow when we consider the underpinnings.
Still, this is a worthwhile book for those who like offbeat books about folks
who are not typical heroes. I enjoyed it immensely, although not enough for
a re-reading. Recommended for the offbeat reader.

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