I Am Not Sidney Poitier is an irresistible comic novel from the master storyteller Percival Everett, and an irreverent take on race, class, and identity in America
I was, in life, to be a gambler, a risk-taker, a swashbuckler, a knight. I accepted, then and there, my place in the world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier.
Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation.
Percival Everett's hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney's tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than watchful eye of his adopted foster father, Ted Turner, Not gets arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, sparks a dinnertable explosion at the home of his manipulative girlfriend, and sleuths a murder case in Smut Eye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem: "What's your name?" a kid would ask. "Not Sidney," I would say. "Okay, then what is it?"
Driven by the most sidesplitting dialogue this side of Catch-22, Everett's latest tells the story of a young man named Not Sidney Poitier who bears an uncanny resemblance to the famed actor and is adept at deploying a hypnotic technique called Fesmerism. When Not Sidney is young, his mother dies, but not before becoming an early investor in Ted Turner's enterprises. The boy then moves to Atlanta, into the home of Ted Turner. Despite his vast wealth and celebrity looks, when Not Sidney ventures out into the world as a young adult, he faces bizarre, stinging and potentially deadly forms of racism. While Not Sidney comes across as a likable and thoughtful soul, he's the perfect foil for the fictionalized Turner's stream-of-consciousness non sequiturs ("I've never been struck by lightning. You?") as well as the logical absurdities that pepper the speech of his university professor who happens to be named Percival Everett. Not only is the novel smart and without a trace of pretentiousness, it shows Everett as a novelist at the height of his narrative and satirical powers.