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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

THE MANDINGO PROJECT-part 4: chapters 25-32

So here's a summary of the next eighty-two pages already:

And so at last the bedraggled group of weary travelers FINALLY arrive at Falconhurst and the book picks up steam again.

Upon seeing Falconhurst and comparing its no-frills practicality to the opulence of her father’s Crowfoot estate, Blanche is sorely disappointed and launches into a childishly petulant litany of criticisms and comparisons that are quickly quashed by the still-fuming Hammond; from here on Hammond holds his knowledge of Blanche’s incestuous relationship with her brother over her as his one surefire means to ruin her reputation permanently. Nothing that she says or does carries any weight, and she knows it, which will eventually lead to the most infamous plot point in the entire novel…

Hammond introduces Blanche to her new father-in-law, and the two bond over a mutual love of strong toddies, so much so that Blanche very quickly spirals down the path of hardcore, all day alcoholism thanks to boredom (since she never gets to go anywhere and visitors of quality never drop by other than Doc Redfield) and her husband’s spiteful neglect of his husbandly duties. You see, Hammond only beds down with Blanche a couple of times, purely to facilitate an heir to the plantation, but his outright distaste for white chicks in general and Blanche in particular only strengthens his bond to Ellen the wench. Upon meeting Ellen, Blanche figures out the nature of the slave girl’s ties to Hammond and a slowly-simmering cold war between the two begins in earnest although there is nothing that Blanche can do about her husband’s dalliances in dusky-town. Anyway, the two enemies soon turn out to be pregnant, and Hammond gushes over the prospect of a child with his slave lover while he cares not one whit for Blanche’s spawn, except for its future status as his heir. And speaking of pregnancies, uber-stud Mede manages to knock up both Lucy and Big Pearl, who unbeknownst to him are his mother and half-sister respectively.

Mede’s training resumes to an extent when Hammond receives news of a rich man from New Orleans who seeks to pit his seasoned fighter, Topaz, against the unbeatable Maxwell Mandingo, so Hammond obsesses over readying his man to win the fight and score him some money and more slaves; during the training Hammond begins to worry about whether Mede can defeat a city-trained combatant, and since the challenge from Topaz’s owner is the only fight that Mede has been offered since he established a rep for being unbeatable Hammond contemplates selling Mede since his buying price of $2700 has pretty much gone to waste (he has obviously forgotten about Mede’s stud services). That plan is immediately shot down by the elder Maxwell, who tells Hammond in no uncertain terms that Mede is not for sale under any circumstances, despite his being Hammond’s property, and since he is the finest Mandingo that anyone has ever seen he is invaluable to the plantation’s breeding pool.

With her husband’s attentions diverted to his trophy buck, Blanche’s drunkenness becomes overwhelming and she stops bothering with taking care of her appearance unless company shows up (which is pretty much never), so she wanders about the big house in a Mother Hubbard nightgown with no shoes on and her greasy, stringy hair unkempt and looking like someone had boiled her head. The only attention she receives from Hammond is an obligatory kiss on the forehead as the smallest of acknowledgements or
hostile reproach whenever she opens her mouth to speak, and while she finds herself fond of the old man she finds his rambling stories boring and only puts up with them as a social excuse to get completely shitfaced, at one point getting melancholy over not getting any Hammond dick and lamenting the absence of her brother’s gotch-eyed affections, in front of the slaves no less.

During one of her all day toddy-fests, a guest shows up to announce the arrival of the challenging slave owner and, while dressed in her finest Scarlett O’Hara rags, Blanche bottoms out rather publicly, and vomits her guts out as she is lead upstairs and away from the eyes of the guest. This incident causes Hammond to order Lucretia Borgia and the slaves to under no circumstances supply Blanche with liquor. But, like any good trashy novel character, Blanche’s vices prove unstoppable as she not only sneaks toddies, but is also aided and abetted by her father-in-law who honestly thinks her Jones for stiff mixed drinks has to do with curing her “headaches,” which may not be inaccurate thanks to the old “hair of the dog” theory.

The fight between the two slaves takes place at the tavern in Benson, and upon arrival Hammond is surprised to encounter that scumbag Brownlee (see THE MANDINGO PROJECT part 1), who coveted Alph and Meg at the bar. The owner of the challenger, one Neri by name, wants to bet five grand and not wager slaves as Hammond had expected, leaving Ham with nothing to wager but the five hundred in gold coins that he had dug up from one of the kettles buried at Falconhurst and the assembled pot of cash that those who vouch for his word cobble together, and the promise of money from the local Jewish banker. The icing on the cake is Hammond’s desperate willingness to do anything to win, and that desire causes him to put up both Alph and Meg as stakes despite his promise to Lucretia Borgia that he would never sell her twin sons. His father rationalizes this breach in keeping a promise by reminding Hammond that he only promised that the boys were exempt from being sold, but there was no mention of wagering them. Besides, it was only a promise made to a nigger anyway…

After the tavern owner drags out the fight’s start time in order to sell as much whisky as possible, the battle begins and Mede’s opponent is revealed to be a cocaine fueled giant with years of bare-knuckle experience, a fact plainly evident by a visible mosaic of scars and his complete lack of ears, both a casualty of his career. The unspeakably savage brawl involves much graphic description of every dirty move in the book — made worse by the fact that the opponents are completely naked —, a catalog of knees grinding into groins, fingernails clawing through flesh, attempted eye-gouging, you name it, and the fight goes on for over thirty-five minutes. As both slaves try to overcome each other and a combination of serious injury and exhaustion, it looks like the fight will go to Topaz until Mede, pinned beneath the vicious juggernaut, gets him in a solid hold and chews out his jugular, spitting out the chunk of flesh in a sickening display of gore.

With Topaz deader than disco, Neri leaves (accompanied by Brownlee) Hammond to his victory, and our heroes pack up the savaged Mede for the return to Falconhurst. On the way back the party is robbed by two masked highwaymen, probably Neri and Brownlee but there is no proof since they are masked, and while Hammond is pissed off about it his father isn’t too concerned since all the robbers got was what they put in; don’t forget that most of the promised wager cash was promised from the bank so it wasn’t in hand and consequently not stolen. After that harrowing setback, our heroes make the trek back to the plantation.

NEXT: the apocalyptic and incredibly offensive conclusion.

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