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Stephen O'Connor is the author of "Will My Name Be Shouted Out?," his account of his years teaching creative writing in a New York inner-city school. Katha Pollitt called it "a wonderful, heartbreaking, enraging book." His is also the author of "Rescue," a collection of short fiction. O'Connor, an visa mer adjunct professor of creative writing at Lehman College, also teaches at the New School & Rutgers University. He resides in New York City. (Bowker Author Biography) visa färre

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The Best American Short Stories 2014 (2014) — Bidragsgivare — 273 exemplar


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This novel was issued roughly contemporaneously with the more acclaimed and popular Lincoln in the Bardo, which it resembles in many respects. It consists of a relatively conventional narrative interspersed with passages of nonfiction, first person narratives which are often achronological, and, especially early in the book, voyages into magic realism: Jefferson is taken to a movie of his life by Jemmy and Dolley Madison, Sally Hemings invites him to travel on her new invention the subway, Jefferson and Hemings visit the Museum of Miscegenation, a sadistic guard (possibly Hemings) interrogates a political prisoner (possibly Jefferson). This is a heady brew, and, for me, a winner. It's not often that I take on a 600-page novel without a break to some other reading, but this fascinates. It's not, happily, a BLM style tirade against Jefferson, but neither is he a particularly sympathetic character. The author could have made this more inviting by giving his reader, at least this one, a little less credit; there is plenty of untranslated French, several major characters, notably the Jefferson daughters and Hemings herself. seem to have two names, and he takes his time letting you know that, and the first-person narratives are in italics, which proved difficult for these old eyes to read. And the book is too long--of course it's too long--but it seems churlish to complain, for when one chooses a doorstop like this, there's a sort of compact with it that it's going to take weeks to read. This is a great book and i wish had been better received.… (mer)
Big_Bang_Gorilla | 6 andra recensioner | Apr 11, 2022 |
Good artists, whatever their creative medium, are always grappling with the limits of that medium. They are constantly asking themselves: what can this form with which I am working do that no other form can do? What can the peculiarities of this form show us about history, the world, the human condition, etc., that no other form can do? There are, of course, numerous biographies about Jefferson. But it is arguably this work of fiction that comes closes to capturing the full range of Jefferson: his brilliance, his managerial ineptitude, his political gamesmanship, his genuine horror at the institution of slavery, his persistent refusal to question his own entitlement and privilege at the apex of that system. Jefferson emerges here as a fully-rounded character: complex, contradictory, plagued by doubt, fortified by arrogance, both admirable and thoroughly reprehensible.

Even more remarkable in many ways is O'Connor's portrayal of Hemmings, a person who--unlike Jefferson--exists only in a few fragments in the documentary record. She is every bit as complex as Jefferson, with her own mix of admirable and questionable characteristics, many of them the result of being immersed in a the complexities of an enslaving system that granted her some privileges (not just because of her connection with Jefferson, but because of her light skin, her position as the child of a house servant, etc). She is by turns self-actualizing and dogged by guilt at having collaborated in her own oppression and the oppression of others.

To pull all this off, O'Connor has to throw out all the rules. He promiscuously mingles genres and styles, layering in several different stories around the central historical novel. There is a Thomas Jefferson who undertakes a physical exploration of the interior of a body that turns out to be Thomas Jefferson. There is a dystopic sci-fi story about a giant industrial machine invented by Sally Hemmings. There is an extended meditation on color--my favorite part in many ways--based on an unfinished project Jefferson apparently had in mind at the time of his death.

There will, therefore, be many people who won't like this book at all. Some will be offended by the central premise, some will be offended by what seems on the surface to be an irreverent treatment of a serious topic, and some will simply be offended by the stylistic bravura. I suspect, however, that what will most offend people about this book is a testament to what O'Connor has achieved: that it offers no easy answers, to black and white view of the world, no comfortable place for anyone to stand. Instead, it shows us the many layers of complexity involved in America's original sin.
… (mer)
BornAnalog | 6 andra recensioner | Jan 4, 2022 |
Interesting idea in the way the different strings of the story come together - known facts and imagined possibilities. But about mid way through the book descends in to heterosexual male pornography and that is just plain ugly.
Edwinrelf | 6 andra recensioner | Aug 8, 2019 |
This book is a big, shapeless, unwieldy mess.

I think there's something admirable in the attempt to write it, and I think O'Connor has worked hard at getting into Thomas Jefferson's and Sally Hemings's heads, as well as into the eighteenth-century zeitgeist, in an attempt to understand how they understood their -- I don't even know what to call it, since "relationship" seems laughably inadequate to describe whatever this was.

I do think it's fair to O'Connor to point out that he is very clear that at the beginning, when Sally Hemings was 14 and Thomas Jefferson 44, Hemings was raped by Jefferson. The Sally Hemings in this book, at least (we really know nothing about the interior life of the real Hemings) actively did not want to have sex with Jefferson and resisted to the point of foolhardiness, given her situation. (And even if that were the case, there would have been no way for a teenaged Hemings to meaningfully consent to sex with her middle-aged master.) O'Connor suggests that Hemings's feelings for Jefferson changed over the course of three decades into something approaching love, although love of a complicated and ambivalent nature.

Is that impossible? I don't think so; people are weird and Stockholm Syndrome is a thing and it's true that Jefferson offered Hemings some valuable currency in that she lived a better, easier life than his other slaves and he agreed to free her children. Could that feel like love to her? It might -- I don't think it's impossible -- but I didn't find the soft-focus scenes of romance in a fanciful hidden-away lodge to be remotely plausible. (The scene in which she insists on calling him "My Tom" -- my eyes practically rolled out of my head.) The main problem with this book -- other than repeated attempts at postmodern nonsense, which added nothing in my opinion -- is that I never for one moment forgot that I was reading a white guy's interpretation of what Sally Hemings felt about Thomas Jefferson. Maybe that's not fair, and O'Connor is unquestionably a well-intentioned white guy, but still -- that's a problem in the writing, because he never made me believe in the Sally Hemings he was trying to conjure.
… (mer)
GaylaBassham | 6 andra recensioner | May 27, 2018 |



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