"It was not easy to be the target of so many people"
July 22, 2019 2:42 PM   Subscribe

"It’s the story of a half-black, half-Jewish heroine’s search for her father; a postmodern dismantling of the Greek myth of Theseus; a send-up of American myths of racial purity and authenticity; a tall tale featuring a teenage heroine who one-ups Pam Grier in badassery, Albert Einstein in brilliance, and Cary Grant in nonchalance; and an exuberant and acrobatic experiment with language itself." --Scott Saul on Oreo by Fran Ross, in a wide-ranging essay on the author. [LARB]

More: Yet, after spending some time following the biographical traces Fran Ross left, I’ve come to think that the recent tributes to Oreo have missed perhaps its most crucial context — mostly because Ross herself withheld that context from the public. Oreo is a queer novel, written by a gay woman who, while she traveled in gay circles and revered queer writers like James Baldwin and Djuna Barnes, opted not to disclose that side of her identity when she made her literary debut. That original act of withholding, or discretion, has led the novel’s many admirers to fail to see its queerness, to miss how its quicksilver style has roots in Fran Ross’s triple-jeopardy predicament as a black gay female writer of genius. She deployed the razzle-dazzle of her language both to trespass boundaries of all kinds and to detach herself from the evidence of those trespasses. “She had protective armor on,” one of her creative collaborators, the novelist and journalist Himilce Novas, told me. “She was stolid, even lapidary. That was her defense — it was not easy to be the target of so many people.”
posted by chavenet (6 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my God, thank you so much for posting this
posted by schadenfrau at 3:06 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The description "half-black, half-Jewish" implies that one can't be fully Black while being fully Jewish. I don't know whether Ross herself uses it (Google Books says not) but Scott Saul ought to know better.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:33 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am both thrilled to know this book exists saddened that I didn't know about it when it was published. I am excited to read it with as a queer narrative, though, which I may not have done (known to do?) at its time of publication.

I am also pleased to find there's an audio book version which is read by Robin Miles who reads N.K. Jemison's Broken Earth trilogy, Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon, and Margaret Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures, among many others excellent works.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:54 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

The description "half-black, half-Jewish" implies that one can't be fully Black while being fully Jewish. I don't know whether Ross herself uses it (Google Books says not)

You might do better to read the actual book, and the responses of other people who share, in part or in whole, Ross's or Oreo's identities? Ross herself wasn't Jewish (from TFA). But in the edition I have, the forward is written by Danny Senna, who talks about how the text spoke to them and their peers -- in 90s, pre-gentrified Brooklyn -- of people who had grown up astride between worlds in one way or another, and thus were "authentically nothing." One of the most powerful things about the book was that Oreo (and Ross, implicitly? though she disappears, to some extent, also from TFA) claimed that simultaneous abundance and thus absence of identity and made it into something formidable and badass as opposed to something tragic. Senna identifies this (years before this article) as another queer reading of the text.

You've taken one of the central themes of the book -- which the article is pretty familiar with? -- and used it to dismiss the article entirely. This is kind of unfortunate.

Anyway. Everyone read the book, and definitely read what other people have written about it.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:38 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I thought his point was more related to the existence of people for whom being Black (ethnically) and Jewish (religiously) doesn't put them "between" anything? But that doesn't seem to me to be a detour we need to get too far into in talking about this book, either, beyond acknowledging that such people are all too often left out of discussions of Jewishness.
posted by atoxyl at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2019

I think there’s a distinction between how one identifies and how the world identifies you, and that’s part of that disconnect. Like you can identify with all the worlds you have inside you, but the world at large, and the people who make up the communities you identify with, might decide you only get to be one, or none, or that who are depends on your context, and the fact that none of that is in your control is part of what’s so dehumanizing. I don’t think speaking to the reality of that experience is a problem.

And then there’s the way Christine “Oreo” Clark dgaf.

Seriously, everyone read the book. Ross at one point wrote for Richard Pryor. She was funnier than him.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:54 PM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

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