X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon
So many of my esteemed colleagues have reviewed this book extremely favorably and some of them told me exactly why they love this book. They cite the energy in the narrative, the honesty in the young man’s anger, and the eventual growth and redemption of this lost soul.
So I feel like walking on thin ice to say that I didn’t find the novel or the protagonist quite compelling all the way through. I found the beginning of the narrative strong and powerful. I was moved by Red’s emotional ties to his mother and siblings; I was convinced that he would find justification of he must steal. His slow realization of his “place” in the world saddened me. The refrain of “Just a n****r” is both chilling and makes my blood boil! And one cannot easily forget his witnessing a lynched body and the connection to the song “Strange Fruit.”
But then… we have 200 pages more of Malcolm engaged in various illegal activities, and continuously excusing himself because of his sorrowful past, family situation, societal reality, etc. I understand that all of these are based on real events, family stories, and Malcolm’s own words. I can only speak for myself as a reader how after a while it felt more tedious than compelling. The pacing went from tight to sloppy. I got quite impatient and did not feel empathy or sympathy toward him. Perhaps that’s not the intent of the author but it was difficult for me to want to follow his next missteps since I stopped caring.
The final payoff of X’s enlightenment comes very late and lasts very briefly within the confine of this novel. The book ends before his important life’s work begins. For many who already know quite a bit about Malcolm X, his personal narrative, his rage, and his complex relationship with the Nation of Islam, the ending is but a beginning — we know what he would become. And the book includes extensive after matter to detail Malcolm X’s achievements. I just wonder what impression this “novel” of Malcolm X leaves a younger reader.
I also wonder how the pacing feels and my emotional engagement might have been different if the narrative voice had been a more universal third person, so that I could understand his internal struggle and also observe his external charms and charisma (and not just being told by the protagonist that “people seem to be drawn to me” or “girls like me.”)