Now 400 pounds of spoiled fat, Whiff is suddenly reminded of the fragility of his condition when a bunch of Northern rednecks swoop in to kidnap and lynch him. And this is only the beginning of Whiff’s troubles. Though he survives the lynching through force of will, the law becomes involved”and one of his father’s old enemies is one of those black men who”ve acquired a scrap of power within the NBA. Just Whiff’s luck, this hereditary enemy also happens to despise the light-skinned.
The situation is original enough. But instead of resting smugly on it, LaFond draws an absorbing portrait of Whiff, despite his goofy nickname; the name is put to work as a metaphor. In his baseball days, Whiff was a great fielder and a terrible batter, who would whiff at three pitches each turn”at least until the playoffs came and it really counted, whereupon his batting average became perfect.
But he was called “Whiff” even before his baseball career, in fact as far back as he can recall. This works as a device for showing the continuity between the abused child that Whiff was and the precariously composed adult he is now. He’s suddenly humbled again for the first time in decades as he faces probable death:
Whiff felt, for once in his life, like a cornered animal. He had no thought, no calculation, but a feral need to live with some dignity, as a man. He would not end as a man the way he had lived as a child. As a boy he spent many a sundown over Big Daddy Gleason’s knee being whooped … Somehow he knew, like a plant knows to close its petals for the rain, that another cruel kick was to be expected”but by God he was a man!
Into this portrait, LaFond weaves a transcendent critique of the individual’s supplication before state authority. Child abuse is symbolically conflated with interclass, interracial, and intra-racial hatred throughout the book in a delicate stew of greed for power and hate:
He stood, not stoically as he wished he had, but in a state of curiosity according to his nature, wondering at the nature of the man beyond the yellow door; the coal black mastermind who was essentially the unseen CSA senator for all of the Negroes residing in Baltimore County, Maryland.
…[ W]hat had always intrigued Whiff about this pillar of the South was its very existence. With the Northern Negro famously exploited by the Manhattan Money Traders that ran the Union, Whiff had treasured the idea of the NBA as an institution for dignity, even though the enforcers … had forever given light-skinned boys like him a hard way to go. Then again there was that dark murderous undertone to the NBA”colored men disappeared in the night for overstepping their bounds”as it was rumored that his own father, Big Daddy Gleason, had met his end on a lonely country road …
Big Daddy, is this how you met your end, standing before some like yellow door?
As you might imagine, getting it all out doesn”t leave LaFond with much time for editing. The work is marred by typos and misspellings as well as under-written passages that a good editor would have asked him to slow down and stretch out:
Would he enter this door never to return as Big Daddy never returned for Whiff’s eleventh birthday party having gone out for the party favors?
It often does sound like he’s racing to get stuff off his head and move on to the next book; the few books he’s had published by indie presses are somewhat cleaner. But even if publishers were more consistently willing to stick their necks out and do the promotional legwork for an oddball, anti-ideologue writer like LaFond, coughing up for a pro editor seems to be out of most editorial budgets these days.
As usual, I find the online publishing “revolution” is being waged with a double-edged sword. Some small presses with a sense of pride do edit meticulously, but by and large readers who want to give offbeat writers a try must plow through a minefield of tooth-grinding typos. But perhaps this bothers me more than it bothers most readers; we all have our quirks. In any case, there is plenty of free material available for perusal on LaFond’s blog if you”d like to sample before you shell out.
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