Erasure by Percival Everett

It is really quite hard to summarise or describe this book. It is the story of Thelonius ‘Monk’ Ellison, an author of books no one reads, whose latest book is rejected by several publishers. Doing the rounds of success is a book called ‘We’s Lives in Da Ghetto’ pronounced by all to be a raw, emotional truth telling about what it is to be Black and by implication that there is only this one way to represent Black.

Monk decides he has to write a book in this style as he is often told that he is not Black enough. He likes things that are often seen as white and middle class: classical music, literature, speaking with a middle class accent and horror of all horrors, a Black man that can’t play basketball.

Running alongside this story is the descent of Monk’s mother into dementia, the death of his sister who worked in a Women’s Clinic and his brother who comes out after 15 years of marriage and two children. And then there is the discovery of a half-sister, if all of that is not enough.

Monk’s new book, ‘Ma Pafology’, written in dialect, tells the story of Van Go Jenkins, is the name a play on Van Gogh?, who has four children by four different women and ends up raping the daughter of a rich Black man who employs him. We get a book within a book here along swith snippets of other texts about woodworking or trout fishing both very ‘White’ activities.

Ma Pafology, renaned Fuck, goes on to win the most prestigious book award and on the flight to receive the award, Monk finds himself as Monk and his alter ego author Stagg R Leigh sitting in the same seat on the plane representing this split personality of being American and being Black.

Scattered throughout the book are imaginary conversations between artists, musicians and Hitler. The conversation that links to the title of the book is between Rauschenberg and de Kooning where Rauschenberg has asked de kooning to draw him a picture.

Rauschenberg: Well, it took me forty erasers but I did it.

de Kooning: Did what?

Rauschenberg: Erased it. The picture you drew for me.

de Kooning: You erased my picture?

Rauschenberg: Yes.

de Kooning: Where is it?

Rauschenberg: Your drawing is gone. What remains is my erasing and the paper which was mine to begin with.


By writing ‘Fuck’, Monk is erasing his life as a Black man and selling his erasing through the book.

I struggled with the choice of Monk’s name because I don’t know enough about jazz. After a quick google I came across the jazz player described as innovative, uses improv by mixing genres and modes. Of course, that is exactly what Everett has done in this book. He is definitely challenging over categorisation of genre

So, this is a book about misrepresentation, or a refusal by society to accept more than one representation of Black-American life. Monk is erased by becoming Staff R Leigh, a parody of Black America and challenges us to think about what it means to be authentic.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *