Synopses & Reviews
A take-no-prisoners tale of growing up without knowing who you are.
When David Matthews's mother abandoned him as an infant, she left him with white skin and the rumor that he might be half Jewish. For the next twenty years, he would be torn between his actual life as a black boy in the ghetto of 1980s Baltimore and a largely imagined world of white privilege.
While his father, a black activist who counted Malcolm X among his friends, worked long hours as managing editor at the Baltimore Afro-American, David spent his early years escaping wicked-stepmother types and nursing an eleven-hour-a-day TV habit alongside his grandmother in her old-folks-home apartment. In Reagan-era America, there was no box marked "Other," no multiculturalism or self-serving political correctness, only a young boy's need to make it in a clearly segregated world where white meant "have" and black meant "have not." Without particular allegiance to either, David careened in and out of community college, dead-end jobs, his father's life, and girls' pants.
A bracing yet hilarious reinvention of the American story of passing, Ace of Spades marks the debut of an irresistible and fiercely original new voice.
"The son of an African-American father and a Jewish mother, Matthews tells of growing up racially mixed in Baltimore, Md., during the 1970s and '80s. Soon after his birth, Matthews's mother, a victim of schizophrenia, disappears from his life, and his father, 'a prominent black journalist,' moves through a series of jobs and relationships as Matthews begins a lifelong struggle with the circumstances of his ambiguous racial heritage. Adults in various states of mental and emotional disarray pass through Matthews's life. Some of his father's girlfriends are abusive ('She passed her cigarette from her clipping hand to her mouth, and...plunged a dinner fork into the bony flesh between my shoulder blades'); some are kind. As his father spends more and more of his time at work, Matthews comes into the care of his beloved grandmother. Until her death, this kindly woman will be at the eye of the storm that is his life. Unsurprisingly, Matthews drifts into drugs, petty crime and a general slackness which is the central problem here. While Matthews piles up nicely crafted anecdotes and a list of intriguing characters, there is a lack of tension, leaving a flat narrative. This memoir is long on adolescent male observation ('Julie, an Art Institute coed with apple cheeks and honeydew breasts...') and rather short on resonant revelation. Matthews builds a lot of momentum through the course of his tale, but with little genuine payoff." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a loving portrait of a close relationship between a father and son, one slightly delayed by the fog of race." Booklist
"Moments of exuberant power, but Matthews too often stumbles over his own sentences." Kirkus Reviews
"In this stylish, astute, often frustrating memoir, Matthews examines the zigzags in his path between black and white identities before finally settling somewhere in between." New York Times
"[A] story of self-deprecation and, ultimately, self-empowerment....His lifelong search and the book come to a conclusion that is wrenching and redemptive." USA today
"Some of what he offers is provocative enough to invite book discussion or classroom debate, while much of his story clarifies a period and a place by personalizing them." School Library Journal
In a candid memoir of identity and ethnicity, the author describes growing up with his black activist father and his own white skin, the abandonment of his mother, and his life as a black boy caught between the ghetto of 1980s Baltimore and his perceived world of white privilege. 75,000 first printing.
Abandoned as an infant by his mother, David was left with the rumor that he might be half-Jewish. As he grew, he was torn between his actual life as a black boy in the ghetto of 1980s Baltimore and an imagined world of white privilege in this bracing yet hilarious American memoir.
A take-no-prisoners tale of growing up without knowing who you are
David Matthews was born on the line between races. His mother was white, but she disappeared when he was an infant, leaving him with pale skin and the prospect of a Jewish identity. His father was black, a journalist and activist who counted Malcolm X among his friends. So growing up in the Baltimore ghetto in the 1980s, Matthews had a choice. He took one look at the school lunchroom and chose white. But that choice took on new implications when he came home to a neighborhood where his chosen race was a liability, if not a hazard. In the years that followed, Matthews slipped in and out of identities as the situation demanded, making use of each to get what he needed. He read the culture around him, soaked up its expectations, biases, and passwords, and fashioned a character that could only exist in this generation in America, an exuberant, open-minded, opportunistic young man making up his life and identity on the fly.
About the Author
David Matthews is a writer living in New York. He has appeared on The Tavis Smiley Show and the CBS Sunday Morning Show, and in People magazine.