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"White Girls" is an absorbing and astonishing collection of 13 literary essays that explore Hilton Al's personal relationships with family members, famous friends from Diana Vreeland (1903-1989), Truman Capote (1924-1984) to fashion designer Andre Leon Talley (1949-). Al's also writes in depth about Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Louise Brooks, Flannery O'Connor, and Malcolm X. Al's discusses gay culture, and the beginnings of the AID's epidemic that claimed the life of his beloved partner "K" (in 1992); also the sobering truth of the remains of early AID's victims being stuffed into black plastic trash bags, which was widely (sensationally) reported in the media, and nearly forgotten in current times. A few times throughout the book, his expletive language/commentary seemed slightly offensive/unprofessional, yet considering how great this book was; it was just as easy to overlook.
TRISTES TROPIQUES: For over three decades Al's had a close friendship with Sir or Lady (SL) who he met in 1982. SL was a graphic designer, photographer/film maker, the man he loved in friendship, emulated, accepted/understood. Al's identified with "twin-ship", his brother, the first Hilton was stillborn, he was raised by his single mother and had 4 sisters who dressed like the (1980's pop girl group) "Pointer Sister's".
After months of being away, SL would return, resuming their friendship. The white women that SL had romantic relationships, predictably got to know Al's: calling him, or hiring him to freelance/write for them, so they could critique/bash him; with jealousies over his close relationship with SL. Al's would host nice parties and they would arrive to make a scene, out of passion for SL. This played out in the same re-occurring pattern.
Al's loved SL more then grief, he used SL's women to maintain their dramatic friendship "play". They rarely discussed their feelings for one another outright, or articulated on their relationship standing. Al's felt a "sisterhood" connection to black female writers, and "brotherhood" with gay male artists.
THE WOMEN: The exciting 1966 release of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" was a turning point for this author, further defining his place in the establishment of cultural "literary masculinity" then held by (Jewish) writers: Philip Roth, William S. Paley, and Norman Mailer. Capote, an openly gay man, with his effeminate high voice, gestures/mannerisms, took his place with these manly-men as a literary icon.
Flannery O'Conner (1925-1964) hardly wrote about her Irish-Catholic religion in her Southern Gothic portrayals, and was critical of Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers clichéd "Southerness" imagery.
GWTW: The photography of the southern black lynchings are highly disturbing. Al's writes of his hyper awareness of walking away from white women as to not offend them, lest he be accused of rape, being slammed against a wall by 4-5 policemen in a case of mistaken identity, being accosted on his way to school accused of truancy, and his fear of being accidently killed as the writer/poet Henry Dumas (1934-1968).
PHILOSOPHER OR DOG? Writers of color wear the "mask of piety", just as often their voice is compromised, as the quality, thought, of the writing without having to deal with the face behind the mask.
The powerful story of Malcolm X (MX) was covered: how MX was favored by his father because of his lighter skin, and held in lower regard for the same reason by his mother. Al's discusses MX mother's West Indie's cultural beliefs in ghosts: how ghosts were a part of consciousness, appearing in dreams, with signs and warnings. After the murder of MX father, his mother was held in a Kalamazoo, MI state mental asylum for over 26 years.
WHITE NOISE: The start of Marshall Mathers III/Eminem (1972-) career often included a "trash tongue" explosive flow of rage against poverty, his mother, LGBT persons, and authority figures. In recent times, his lyrics highlight political issues, individualism, recovery, and a variety of other themes.
Raised in Warren MI a suburb of Detroit- outside the "Arsenal of Democracy", his life was defined by poverty, abuse and neglect. He dropped out of school in the 9th grade, unable to continue with the torment, bullying, violence. Unlike other whites, Eminem never realized the privilege/birthright of his race. The fact hat he had survived in such a harsh environment was similar to that of a black man. Eminem's would articulate his life experience through his love of music, expressed through the rap/hip-hop genre of black music and culture. Eminem is a multi-platinum selling recording artist and hip-hop icon.
All the essays were outstanding, it would be hard to highlight each piece for this review. I was fascinated by Al's insight on Andre Leon Talley's inability to love or form romantic attachments, his observations of the life times of Michael Jackson (1958-2009), also comic genius Richard Pryor (1940-2005), of Pryor's family members, and his former wife Jennifer Lee, who wrote the book "Tarnished Angel". Lee returned to Pryor, lovingly assisted with his care, until his death.
"An actress is a liar!" Al's declares. They are paid to play a role, desperate, as they attempt to seduce male writers, directors, etc. Unable to stop acting, or love anyone as they love themselves.
The wide and high "field of memory" are closing observations in his final essay. A "holocaust" of feeling and emotion what is either remembered, forgotten, or even misremembered to accommodate the high wall of acceptance.