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Cotton: A Novelby Christopher Wilson
Synopses & Reviews
Lee Cotton is a black boy born white-skinned in segregated Eureka, Mississippi, in 1950. Over the course of Lee's first twenty years, he will fall in love with the daughter of a local Klansman, get kicked senseless and left for dead on a freight train headed north, end up in St. Louis as a white man, and be drafted into the psych-ops corps in Nevada. There, a drunken accident will separate Lee from another part of his identity and change his fate yet again. Before he returns to Mississippi, he will experience up close and personal the women's liberation movement and the dawn of the Lesbian Nation.
Lee Cotton's voice — equal parts Delta Blues and Motown — takes us on an exhilarating freedom ride through America's preoccupation with identity politics. His funny, forgiving charm ultimately embodies a serious message: The freaks and oddities of this world may well be divine.
"Wilson's winning 20th-century picaresque wanders from the Deep South to the Midwest and on to San Francisco, following its protagonist through multiple and surprising identities. If the locales exude a faint whiff of familiarity, Lee Cotton, the book's shape-shifting main character, has a body (and a mind) that keeps things interesting. Beginning life as a 'black soul in a white wrapper,' Lee leaves Mississippi after a horrific beating at the hand of a local racist. He passes for white in St. Louis, getting work as a hospital orderly. But fate has more changes in store. A freak accident and doctoring by an 'offbeat' surgeon have him embark on a new life as a woman... and then Lee's skin starts to darken. Wilson (Mischief) offers readers both a sharp-eyed, amusing ramble through America from the 1950s to the '70s and a critique of exclusionary identity politics. As Lee tells a heckler late in the book, 'All my life I been hounded for being born the wrong color, or the wrong sex, or dating the wrong person, or living in the wrong place. We ain't what we're born. We're what we do with ourselves.' Though marred by a somewhat hokey ending, this book is nevertheless very funny, profoundly endearing and highly memorable." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In introducing Lee, [Wilson] does far more than spin an irresistible tragicomedy that combines history with flights of fancy — he challenges us to look at what truly defines us if it is not our race, gender, or socioeconomic status." School Library Journal
"[P]art tall tale and part satire, and the novel's humor and sheer zaniness prevent it from getting bogged down in political hectoring." Booklist
"This whimsical tale, filled with highly entertaining puns and innuendos, explores race, gender, and sexual stereotypes through an unusual set of characters and bizarre circumstances. Recommended..." Library Journal
"A bit of Touched By an Angel sanctimony near the end scarcely dampens the antic entertainment offered here." Kirkus Reviews
"Cotton is strong enough to make up for its tacked-on, O. Henry-ish ending. And that strength derives from one source: the wise, winning voice of its main character." Washington Post
"Cotton is an odd, inventive, entertaining and extremely smart novel — a rare combination in fiction nowadays." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
About the Author
Christopher Wilson earned his Ph.D. in humor and works as a consulting semiotician. His first novel, Mischief, was short-listed for the Whitbread Award. He lives in London.
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