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I Am Not Sidney Poitier: 07/31/17

I Am Not Sidney Poitier  by Percival Everett

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett is the story of a young black man endowed with the name Not Sidney Poitier and his apparent resemblance to the actor. His mother having believed in cable television in its earlier days, invested her entire nest egg wise in Ted Turner's venture, leaving Not Sidney and incredibly wealthy young man — and Ted Turner forever in his debt.

It's a strange set up but it works. The story told in a dreamy first person reminds me of Big Fish (both the book by Daniel Wallace) and the film (2003). There is also a transformative quality to Not Sidney, one that reminds me of a singleton Being John Malkovich (1999).

Early on in the novel, Not Sidney, having moved to Atlanta to live with Ted Turner, decides to go home to Los Angeles. He decides to drive and for a moment I really did expect the book to embrace a Big Fish quest, though done as a road trip. Not Sidney, though, is traveling while black and barely makes it out of Atlanta before he's pulled over and jailed and sent to work on a chain gang.

The jail and chain gang adventure, though, is just one of many in Not Sidney's life. He is a black everyman, and his experiences are the extreme examples of what is possible.

He is even able to transcend his existence as a character in a novel, as demonstrated by his time in college, where he takes a literature class from Percival Everett. Though he is Everett's creation, living in one of his worlds, Not Sidney can't make heads or tails of his lectures or his books.

It's an odd book with an odd protagonist but definitely a memorable one.

Four stars

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