Best 1967 Adventures (1)
December 13, 2016
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1967 adventure novels. Happy 50th anniversary!
Ishmael Reed‘s The Freelance Pallbearers.
In an alternate-universe version of New York, Bukka Doopeyduk is a young black man hustling to survive in HARRY SAM — a kingdom ruled by Harry Sam, a despotic used car salesman who hasn’t left the bathroom in 30 years. Infected by the HooDoo — a trickster virus, of sorts — Doopeyduk rebels against not merely the oppressive political situation, but the entire Western/European/Christian social and cultural apparatus, which he recognizes as repressive and fucked-up. Quitting his job as a nursing home “psychiatric technician,” Doopeyduk sets out to foment a revolution against Harry Sam. Along the way, Doopeyduk points out the foibles of the black community’s other would-be leaders, from a Nation of Islam-esque nationalist who secretly eats pork, to black ministers whose actions are anything but godly. HARRY SAM’s black community, in Doopeyduk’s telling, is doomed to fall victim to one weird obsession and con job after another; but of course, Doopeyduk himself is a con artist — code-switching, praising Jesus, you name it. By any means necessary, right?
Fun fact: As with Reed’s subsequent novels, The Freelance Pallbearers satirizes popular African-American narratives… in this case, autobiographies like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, not to mention confessional novels by celebrated black authors like Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. PS: Reed is a major influence on one of my favorite contemporary novelists, the brilliant Paul Beatty.
Let me know if I’ve missed any 1967 adventures that you particularly admire.