As promised, we are doing an exciting series on the blog. Our team members will be sharing the best books they read in 2015. First up, we have Torsa Ghosal, associate editor of Papercuts.
Mansbach’s satirical novel interlaces the biographical events from the lives of the Major League Baseball players Fleet Walker and Cap Anson with the lives of their (fictional) progeny. Excerpts from the fictionalized memoir of Fleet Walker, who was the first black Major League Baseball player, opens the different sections of the novel. Macon, the protagonist, is a middle class white boy who grew up in suburban Boston through the 80s and the 90s and is a descendant of Cap Anson, the man who was instrumental in segregating professional baseball. Macon is aware of his lineage but is fascinated by black history and hip hop to the point where he ends up fetishizing those. In college, he attempts to channel his white guilt by inventing reductive solutions to make up for the centuries of racial discrimination in the US. There are several other characters, both black and white, who support as well as oppose Macon’s “Race Traitor” project.
I appreciated Mansbach’s ability to present the history of racism with wry humor, without undermining the seriousness of the subject. Some critics found Mansbach’s tone to be “breezy and frivolous” but I think, within the context of the narrative, the cliched language intends to invite critique and reminds readers that putting on black vernacular is as violent and racist as putting on black face. Without Mansbach’s deft touch, Macon would have remained a strawman but he emerges as a complex character. Reading the novel at a time when international activist movements are having to stress that black lives matter, I admired how Mansbach’s novel thematically and formally underscores the precarity of black lives.