Thursday, April 7, 2016

9th Canadian Challenge - 15th Review - How to Make Love to a Negro

I decided to knock this review off quickly, even though I have two other reviews waiting in the wings.  (If I put the Alice Munro review off much longer, I'll have to reread large chunks of it!  Nonetheless, I don't think I can focus on this until my taxes are done.)  The title is a bit of a Rorschach test.  If you are put off by it, then this is not a novel for you.  Perhaps more specifically, if you appreciate or are open to literature focused on the seamier side of life, you might like this novel.  Otherwise, don't bother.  More specifically, Dany Laferrière name-checks Henry Miller several times and Charles Bukowski as well.  If you like Miller or Bukowski, then this novel might appeal to you.  While it is certainly not a reboot of Bukowski's Post Office, there are strong similarities between the two, and indeed both are first novels by their respective authors.

There is really no plot to speak of.  The narrator lives in a fairly squalid one-room apartment on rue St-Denis in Montreal with a roommate, who more or less lives on the couch and is often described as a kind of Black Buddha.  He finds romancing young white women in Montreal (essentially all of them are Anglophone students attending McGill) to be a breeze and he seduces one after another.  That's pretty much the plot.  Laferrière spends far more time talking about the jazz music that his roommate plays or different writers that the narrator has read than actually advancing the plot.

The narrator wants to become an artist and settles for becoming a writer, and in a bit of a postmodern twist, the novel that he writes is How to Make Love to a Negro, i.e. the book that is in the reader's hands.  It isn't at all clear how the two come up with any money for the rent, though it is strongly implied that they are taking money from their white girlfriends.  As I said, it is sort of a book designed to elicit strong reactions and is certainly not for everyone.  For some reason, the book seems to be published in English with a truncated title -- it is actually supposed to be How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired!

One thing that is not in this book, though is omnipresent in Alain Mabanckou's Blue White Red, is the hassling from immigration officers.  (I'm finding Mabanckou and Laferrière to be quite similar, though Laferrière naturally focuses more on Quebec, whereas Mabanckou is more interested in an Africa-Europe axis.)  This probably implies that the two did immigrate to Montreal legally.  It isn't even clear whether they came from Haiti (as Laferrière did) or Africa.  The narrator tells one or two of his dates that he comes from Africa, but this seems designed to impress upon them that he is the "real thing," a Black man from Africa, and is probably not true.  The narrator has found that when people want something (particularly if they are looking to be transgressive and cross some boundary, particularly the color line), they are living out some fantasy in their head and don't want to be bothered by reality.  I don't really have much more to add to that.

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