The unacknowledged boom in African-American fiction continues with Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, a second novel from Alice Randall, author of the nearly banned Gone with the Wind parody, The Wind Done Gone. Windsor Armstrong is a Harvard-educated professor of Russian literature whose son, Pushkin--named after the great Afro-Russian poet--defied all her hopes for him by becoming a star football player. Any other mother would be proud, Windsor reflects. But she had wanted her son to transcend the narrow roles allotted to him as a black man in America. She had wanted more for Pushkin--a place in black bohemia, a place carved out by the writings of Dubois and others. And now, he rejects her again by choosing a Russian lap dancer as his wife.
Windsor's musings--by turns angry, conflicted, wistful, and eccentric--are among the most penetrating comments on race and mother love in contemporary fiction. She recalls her Motown childhood; her cruel, self-hating mother's climb through white society in Washington, D.C.; and the refuge she found at Harvard, slowly uncovering the roots of her racism and her shock and sadness that Pushkin has fallen in love with a woman who does not look like her. And what does Pushkin want from Windsor? Only the truth about who his father is.
Though the novel is a little longer than it needs to be, readers who stay with Randall through the switchbacks and cul-de-sacs of her narrative will be rewarded with stylistic fireworks and an unparalleled examination of black racism. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Randall made a big splash (and got into legal hot water) with her first novel, The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Margaret Mitchell's classic Civil War saga. Her second is nearly as provocative, chronicling the tribulations of an African-American professor of Russian literature whose pro football player son plans to marry a Russian lap dancer. Windsor Armstrong was raped by her mother's white boss just before she went off to Harvard. She named the child she had Pushkin X, went on to get her degree and raised her son almost singlehandedly. Twenty-five years later, she is a tenured professor, trying to adjust to the idea that Pushkin might marry a white stripper called Tanya. Windsor retraces her difficult history to find out how things ended up this way, reminiscing about her Detroit childhood, her glamorous gangster father and her self-centered mother, who took her away from her father and moved to Washington, D.C., and a more privileged life. The novel begins brilliantly, in high satiric mode, with intelligent, unpredictable riffs on Motown vs. D.C., rape and racism, and the difficulty of being a good parent. Windsor's touchstone is the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who was the great-grandson of an African slave presented to Peter the Great, and her interest in his complicated history is just one instance of Randall's clever, tables-turning musing on black identity. Windsor's self-questioning can be frustratingly circular, but even when her rhetoric runs away with her, her restless search for answers is stimulating. Fittingly, the novel ends with a rap version of Pushkin's unfinished novella "The Negro of Peter the Great," a conciliatory wedding gift Windsor has prepared for her son and his fiancee. With this heady tale, Randall proves decisively that she is more than a parodist.
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