Review: Erasure by Percival Everett

Erasure is a razor-sharp satire on how race operates in the publishing industry and society. 

Review: Erasure by Percival Everett

First published in 2001, Erasure by American writer and Professor of English Percival Everett, is being reissued in August with a new foreword by Brandon Taylor, Booker-shortlisted author of Real Life. Erasure follows Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, a self-proclaimed ‘writer of fiction [...] a son, a brother, a fisherman, an art lover, [and] a woodworker’. Sales of Monk’s latest novel, The Persians, are at an all-time low. Reviewers and publishers alike are critiquing The Persians for having ‘little to do with the black experience’. After picking up a copy of Juanita Mae Jenkins’s bestseller We Lives in Da Ghetto, a supposedly ‘authentic’ depiction of the ‘African-American experience’, Monk is inspired to write a hilariously absurd parody entitled My Pafology. Monk’s novel goes on to receive a six-figure movie deal, putting him in a moral conundrum. 

Everett’s novel is deeply thought-provoking. As Taylor points out in the foreword, Erasure highlights how readers do not like racial ambiguity; they ‘want to know if a character is black’. However, any descriptions of race must ‘conform to [the reader’s] expectations of race and its workings’. Everett cleverly makes this point when Monk introduces himself as an individual with ‘dark brown skin, curly hair, [and] a broad nose’ whose ‘ancestors were slaves’. Here Everett describes Monk in a way that conforms with societal expectations of blackness. Another remarkable point Everett makes in Erasure relates to how race operates in the publishing industry. For example, although Monk’s book The Persians is about Greek Mythology, it is placed in the African-American section of the bookstore. Here Everett suggests that books by authors of colour are categorised and defined by race. 

But, what makes Erasure such a success, is Everett’s excellently executed satire. This is exemplified in the excerpt from My Pafology. The vernacular in My Pafology is extremely exaggerated. For instance, the protagonist describes how he ‘be stabbing mama’. Everett also makes use of racial stereotypes to strengthen his satire. The protagonist has four children with four different ‘baby mamas’, his father is in prison, and his character is hypersexualised and violent. The success of My Pafology and the praising of it as ‘genuine’ exposes the racist notions of blackness that exist in the publishing industry and society. 

Erasure is a truly brilliant novel and a modern classic. It is original, hilariously blunt, and moving. 

The new edition of Erasure will be available to purchase from 5 August. 

Header Image Credit: Allen & Unwin

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