by Hilton Als
$24.00 List Price
Hilton Als, a theater critic at the New Yorker for the past eleven years, knows how to make an entrance. The thirteen essays collected in White Girls—the long-awaited follow-up to his book The Women (1996)—all jump off spectacularly. His lead sentence for “White Noise,” on Eminem: “It’s outrageous, this white boy not a white boy, this nasal sounding harridan hurling words at Church and State backed by a 4/4 beat.” The opening lines from “You and What Army?,” told from the perspective of Richard Pryor’s older sister: “Some famous people get cancer. That’s a look.”
Yet even these audacious introductions aren’t as attention grabbing as the title of the volume itself, which is more provocative than that of its predecessor. The Women comprises three discrete meditations on individuals—including Als’s mother and those not born with double X chromosomes, such as the writer’s mentor and early lover Owen Dodson and Als himself—as they embody or reject the racially charged concept of “the Negress.” Despite that book’s gender discordance, its title sounds regal, imposing—a stateliness enhanced by the use of the definite article. White Girls, in contrast, suggests an epithet, a diminishment, a marker of privilege, a pariah status—us, them, nobody, everybody. Als’s always nimble, sometimes outrageous, complicating of alleged binaries—white or black, male or female, gay or straight—makes him one of our most vital, vibrant cultural critics. He continues to puncture pieties and received wisdom, dispensing piercing aperçus such as: “She was as conscious of her body as she was
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