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Reviews in Brief: Susan Finlay, Percival Everett

M. J. Nicholls

The Jacques Lacan Foundation
Susan Finlay
Moist Books, March 2022


osing as a public-school arriviste, Nicki Smith takes a position at the soi-disant Jacques Lacan Foundation, a repository for fustians with a penchant for weak wordplay and the byzantine theories of the French theorist, second only to Derrida for impish intellectual charlatanry. Posing as posho Lettuce Croydon-Smith, Nicki manoeuvres herself in a world of glamorous grifters and Ivy League sorority queens, in a satirical environs spiritually in sync with the offices of Quink magazine in Alexander Theroux’s harsher Laura Warholic: A Sexual Intellectual. The novel is a tame comedy of manners, set in a nonspecific realm of fashionable artists and eggheads.

The narrator frequently italicises all the Americanisms in her prose, overlards her vocalisations with like tonnes of likes, and sleeps with avant-garde filmmaker Diego as she is put in charge of the French translation of a new Lacan notebook (having massaged her CV with a spurious bilingual brag). As she clashes with the primly-attired Connecticut crème de la crème, her struggle to maintain the con and retain the poise of her idol Kate Moss becomes an increasing schlepp. Finlay’s novel is a farcical send-up of the culture of blaggers and carpetbaggers that has become the modus operandi for seemingly every pursuer of power, from influencers to politicians, as their talents for thrusting themselves forward leave the rest of us pining for something better.

The Trees
Percival Everett
Graywolf Press, September 2021


rom absurd comedies (Glyph, American Desert), to puckish self-referential novels (Erasure, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell), to unique spins on the murder mystery (I am Not Sidney Poitier, Assumption) and a raft of other novels and poetry collections, many out of print stretching back to the early 1980s, Everett has been a redoubtable force on the American literary landscape, carving an utterly unique and extravagant body of work that stands with the finest of contemporary fiction. He returns (at the time of writing—his next novel Dr. No is coming in November) with a revisionist take on the deep-fried Southern thriller.

When a series of Trumpian hillbillies are murdered in the very racist town of Money, Mississippi—each victim twinned with a mutilated black corpse clutching their severed testicles, a corpse that disappears from the morgue soon after—two beleaguered black detectives are sent to investigate. Through a wise-cracking local waitress, they meet a 106-year-old root doctor who has documented every victim of lynching in the country, stretching back to the 1910s. The victims seem to have one thing in common—a connection to KKK murders of the past. As in several of Everett’s works, the plot is incidental to the blistering satire and snark-tastic political comment (consider the lesser-known epistolary smackdown A History of the African-American People [Proposed] by Strom Thurmond for another marvellous example).

Poking into the open wound of white supremacy in the rural south in the pre-Biden era, Everett wields his kiln-fresh poker, creating hilariously racist caricatures that capture the blatant racism unleashed with the election of Trumplethinskin. He takes to the thriller with vim, maintaining a brisk pace in short chapters, balancing mordant humour with a venomous critique on America’s unsolvable race riddle, a problem sitting dormant since the end of segregation in the south—illustrated in a powerful sequence of the names of the KKK lynching victims. A master of sharp dialogue, punchy and unflinching satire, Everett once more serves up an irresistible novel that performs another necessary scissor-kick to the gut of modern America.


M. J. Nicholls