As I was saying: Talk about timing. This morning, I declared that the only advertisement I am ready to display on the rexblog is a free one for a great book written by a close friend. Not to be outdone by this weblog, the NY Times devotes about 1,400 words (registration required) in Tuesday’s paper for a Julie Salamon profile of that friend, Alice Randall, and that book, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, which will hit the shelves May 4th.
Salamon’s profile concisely captures the sweep of Alice’s book:
The new novel tells the story of a Harvard-educated professor of Russian literature, a black intellectual snob, whose son has gone lowbrow by becoming a professional football player. Worse, he is engaged to a young white Russian émigré, a lap dancer. In this restless, brainy, heartfelt, and sometimes maddeningly elliptical work, Ms. Randall aims to leave no stereotype unchallenged as she confronts black pride and black ambivalence and strikes unusual connections between high and low culture, distress and hopefulness, while dealing with the plainest but most confounding questions of motherhood.
It is so wonderful to see Alice get this type of positive run-up to this book’s launch, unlike the controversy surrounding the publication of her first book, The Wind Done Gone. While the resulting publicity no doubt helped propel the book up bestselling lists, the experience was in no way pleasant for Alice and those close to her. As I was living through a hell of my own at the time, she and I (and both our wonderful spouses) spent a lot of time convincing one another that things would work out. See, I told you they would. That experience, however, gives special meaning to me for this paragraph from Salamon’s profile in the Times:
Like Windsor, the character Ms. Randall insists she is not, the writer grew up in Detroit (daughter of a dry cleaner), was acquainted with men of little formal education who were numbers geniuses, attended private school in Washington and then Harvard, and had a difficult relationship with her mother. Although she alluded in conversation to painful childhood memories, she did not invoke them in public or discuss them in private. She will only go so far to promote her book. “I don’t want to discuss my back story to sell books,” she said firmly. “I refuse to help anyone be defined by victimization.”
That is my friend, Alice. I am so proud of her.
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly declared: “With this heady tale, Randall proves decisively that she is more than a parodist. Forecast: An 11-city tour and heavy promotion (this is Houghton Mifflin’s lead spring title) should help persuade readers that “The Wind Done Gone” was more than a flash in the pan.”
Alice gave me the honor of reading her new book several times over the past couple of years. She would say with generosity that my comments were helpful, but I know that my primary contribution was suggesting better spellings for certain body parts of the afore-mentioned lap dancer. Oh yes, and I was the person who suggested she add more maddening ellipses. The photo on the left is at the end of a proofing session last April, right before she sent the manuscript to her editor. We were both pretty exhausted but I said, “Hey, wait, I want a picture for my weblog.”