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Oreo by Fran Ross
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's review
Jun 18, 12

it was amazing
Read in June, 2012

Fran Ross' Oreo is an incredible novel that lays the common overlooked magic of racial and cultural mixings, assimilation and multiple identity bare. Its humor, irony, satire and sarcasm has an incendiary, sociological truth, as the best stand-up comedy used to do, and sometimes still does. The fact that Ross was a writer for Richard Pryor is abundantly in evidence, though it would be decades before such Black women comedians would light up the stage and our consciousness. Ross' timing is impeccable, and her ear is fine-tuned for cadence, dialect and dialogue, but she also has serious literary skills; in fact, she's a scholar of the Classics as well as the modern world. The multitude her intellect and spirit contained is undeniable, and put to hilarious, layered and critical use.

Oreo is a classic hero's journey, starring Christine Clark, nicknamed 'Oriole,' but sounded like 'Oreo,' though the latter name, and all it signifies, is no accident here. Oreo is a bi-racial Jew, conversant in multiple tongues, vernaculars and invented languages, cultures, foods, canons, you name it, who goes out in search of her errant father, much like Theseus. The narrative style is in a smartly recursive floating (omniscient) 3rd person POV, allowing Ross to run the gamut of in-jokes, streams of consciousness, signs, symbols, graphics, and more. It's frankly criminal that this novel had to be rescued from obscurity by Harryette Mullen, while Kurt Vonnegut, whose intellectual company Ross more than keeps, is part of the canonical starter kit for people everywhere. Fran Ross skewers racism, sexism, homophobia in terms that are prescient for 1974, and still in play in today's continued push for social transformation. She takes so many risks here, proving the point poet/writer R. Erica Doyle made in a recent conversation: capitalism co-opted fiction, and killed the experimental novel. The experimental novel by a Black writer, then, is more of a rarity now than then. Harryette Mullen, in her introduction, ruminates on whether Ross' irreverent characterization of Jewishness is what contributed to the novel's becoming obscure, and her novel-writing career not gaining traction, but so little information is available about her, that we can only speculate. Based on the careers of a diverse community of white male novelists who have racist, misogynist, homophobic, and other offensive depictions in their work, it's at least certain that a double-standard was part of the problem. That the book was published at all, originally by the now defunct Greyfalcon House, speaks volumes about the independent publishing environment and the viability of non-normative fiction that has been all but decimated by consolidation, assimilation, cooptation and dilution of experimentalist fiction, and the shaping hand of market forces.

Thanks to the appreciation, diligence and scholarship of Mullen, and Northeastern University's commitment to recovering obscured works of art by Black women writers, Oreo is available to readers. Ross' novel is in conversation with the continuum of modernist, avant-garde and postmodern novels, from James Joyce and Jean Toomer, to the Nouveau Roman writers in their US, UK and French iterations, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, to Vonnegut, Gilbert Sorrentino, Xam Wilson Cartier (also overlooked), Ishmael Reed, Salman Rushdie, the overarching career of Christine Brooke-Rose, to very contemporary writers like Ben Ehrenreich, Danzy Senna, Zadie Smith (particularly the novels The Suitors, Caucasia, and White Teeth, respectively), Sam Lipsyte, Katherine Dunn and Jennifer Egan.

It's very sad that Fran Ross didn't live very long, and that she only published one novel. Making and maintaining her work and vision as part of the history and ongoing conversation about fiction and the potential of formal and structural experimentation offers some consolation.
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06/13/2012 page 110

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Breeana (new) - added it

Breeana I really want to read this, after reading your review.

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