Buck Boy by James McBride, 2017
The magic trick:
Taking an almost cartoonish approach to tragedy, and, in doing so, turning a mirror to our society
“Buck Boy” deals with tragedy – a shooting that brings racial strife to the fore in a community.
It does so with an almost bemused narrative voice though. That’s not to say the story makes light of tragedy. The tone actually works to make light of our real-world response to such tragedy. At least that’s my interpretation. We approach everything these days (I write this in the hellscape that is 2020) with zero interest in nuance. Our feelings are turned up to 11.
So when you read “Buck Boy” and see the terribleness of a shooting turn into a cartoonish fiasco, with everyone only interested in playing the angles, well.. it’s hard not to feel like you’re staring into a mirror.
And that’s quite a trick on McBride’s part.
“Ahhhh-haaaaa!” Rev. Jenkins say, “Ahhhhh hah! Tired! Lawd…a boy is dead…”and he wipe his face with his handkerchief and start stuttering like he in church. “I knew this boy for years. He should have had a long life! What else did he have? He had no dreams! He had no hope! He had no aspirations! Ahh, but life! He had life! That’s the one thing they couldn’t take away from him, and now look. They took that away! Awwwwww! We are tired. We ain’t takin’ it!!”
“Yess!” say the crowd.
Rev. Jenkins point to Mr. Woo’s store behind him. “We will march here tomorrow at this same time to see that this boy gets justice and this man gets driven outta here. And until he leaves we ain’t quitting. We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome! We SHALL-NOT-BE-MOVED!” and he shout them last words so loud one newsman with headphones yank them off.
The funny part is, if Buck Boy Robinson saw Rev. Jenkins in his fine pink suit walking down the Boulevard at night, he’d rob him down to his socks no problem. And Buck Boy would never protest for Rev. Jenkins if Rev. Jenkins was shot for holding up a store.
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