Laferriere introduces race into these renderings with inherent elegance, and raising that specter intermittently imbues this road trip with a weighty, consequential dimension. This rucksack called race, heavier than anything Kerouac and his cronies would ever shoulder, makes Laferriere's journey less joy ride than truth sojourn.
However, race politics, and the language conventionally enlisted to discuss them, leave Laferriere cold. The dangers of a life sentenced towing the race-line. The emotional wear-and-tear of filing reports from the vantage of a human being who happens to have black skin. And how insulting to think that race might be the sole thing that defines one. It's all enough to make his black skin crawl.
"Just about every writer I know is defending one cause or another . . . race, color, religion, community or country. . . . I wanted to step out of line." In this ring, Laferriere is most courageous. He risks alienating whites, pointing out the racism implicit in their liberal assumptions, while infuriating blacks in his refusal to parrot the rhetoric of the day.
His "conversation" with Spike Lee about who would be a more honest interpreter of Malcolm X --a white man or black man--left them "two screaming men drunk with the need to shout out their truths."
Laferriere is bored with the stock answer, the easy truths. "Spike's version didn't interest me, that, I'd heard it all before, that it was old stuff for me, that his vision of the world didn't inspire me." Laferriere assumes the role as devil's advocate, calling Lee on any revelations he sees as retro or simply empty platitudes about race and responsibility.
And in this gesture, there are shades of James Baldwin, who floats in as a cautionary specter --someone possessing the courage to slip out of fashion--yet who suffered mightily for it. "Forget about racism, it's not your business," that sad-eyed spirit warns him. "It'll burn the heart right out of you. We're better off leaving racism to the racists."
Laferriere's impressive candor and glib dismissal of PC convention, nationalism, liberalism and taboos are the armor. Everyone takes a tongue-lashing, but there is nothing vicious about Laferriere's prose or point-of-view. It is the hard-to-hear truth. It is crystal clear. It is like the first flash of warm light at the end of a long, dank tunnel.