I’m just going to begin by laying my cards on the table. Erasure is an absolutely brilliant novel; one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. It was recommended to me by the novelist Keith Ridgway when I asked for suggestions of novels which explored diversity in dementia narratives. The dementia aspect of the novel is quite slight but still incredibly interesting. It also provides the catalyst for much of the action in the novel. I was particularly drawn to the hybrid form of Erasure. It includes a novel within a novel, a lecture, various fragments and another intriguing plays on linear form. It doesn’t surprise me that this novel won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction in 2002. I’m looking forward to reading more work by Everett now.
The plot of Erasure is an intriguing one. Monk is a black American academic and writer of high brow novels which do nothing commercially. At times he seems to live in the shadow of his grandfather, father and siblings who, on the surface of things, all appear to have been more successful than he is. He also rages against the literary world and its stereotypes of black American culture. He’s particularly frustrated by the popularity of a recent novel which he believes exploits working class black culture, playing to the stereotypes. In rage he writes a short satirical novel in the same vein. He employs a pseudonym and is surprised, then slightly horrified when his ‘piss-take’ novel turns out to be a runaway success, eventually winning the National Book Awards despite his attempts to scupper it in his role as a judge. Morally, Monk wrestles with what he’s done but he also faces a more practical problem. His mother is living with dementia and requires full time residential care. Monk’s high brow books don’t make enough money to support him and his mother’s increasingly complex needs, while the novel he’s so ashamed of can keep them both in relative luxury. Erasure’s a very clever book. It calls into question stereotypes about race, class and the arts world. It’s also very funny in places and incredibly astutely observed.
As a dementia narrative it offers an intriguing picture of an older, black woman, struggling to hold on to her dignity. There’s a really powerful scene in the residential care facility when she no longer recognises her sons and a funny, but also poignant take on night time wandering where the old woman manages to row herself out to the middle of the lake. Erasure also gives a fantastic insight into healthcare provision in the USA. It does not shy away from exploring issues around financial support and class within the context of dementia. Erasure was a refreshing, irreverent and eye-opening look at race and class in modern America. Everett cleverly explores the way dementia intersects with both these issues and many more.
Erasure was published by Faber and Faber Limited in 2003