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Saturday, March 12, 2005

THE MANDINGO PROJECT-part 3: chapters 15-24

And so, another two-hundred and fourteen pages...

Hammond and his entourage leave the Coign plantation and drag the readers along for the ride in the longest fifty-two pages ever committed to paper, the interminable chapter fifteen. Nowhere in the book is the need for some judicious editing more evident than here since the chapter meanders endlessly, and despite an all-too-in-depth recounting of two stopovers during the road trip back to Falconhurst, nothing of any significance whatsoever to the story happens. The only events of even the slightest import are:

-Hammond’s interest in Ellen the wench blooms into openly expressed, full-blown true love with absolutely nothing in the narrative to make such instant passion believable in the slightest.

-Ellen is forced to switch clothes with her obviously queer brother, Jason, and with the switch in clothes Jason becomes somewhat desirable to Hammond’s annoying cousin, Charles.

-At the first of two uninteresting stopovers an attempt is made by some random white guy to steal Ellen as a bed wench for his epileptic brat of a son (who shits himself during his fits), but the plan is thwarted when the would-be abductor is subdued by Mede after the culprit mistook the in-drag Jason for Ellen. After being released, the would-be abductor shoots at Hammond’s party as they leave, mildly injuring Charles’ horse. Much is made of this injury since no real sex or violence occurs during this chapter, so I guess that the author felt that a horse’s minor gunshot wound was better than nothing.

-During the second stopover, Hammond and his party fall victim to a minor flea infestation thanks to the squalid conditions in their host’s shack.

-Upon his master’s return to Falconhurst, Meg becomes jealous of Ellen and launches into a more explicit homosexual reverie than those witnessed in previous chapters.

After that chapter finally draws to a close, Hammond begins Mede’s training as a fighting nigger in earnest and turns him over to Big Pearl and Lucy as their live-in boy toy, knowing full well that the women are Mede’s half-sister and mother, a fact known only to Hammond and his father. It is also subtly hinted at that Charles and the effeminate slave Jason have entered into a homosexual relationship, but little is made of that in the narrative. Ganymede is also revealed to be hiding an erudite manner of speech which was preferred at the Coign, but since the slaves at Falconhurst are raised to be as ignorant as possible Mede adopts inarticulateness both to fit in and please his master and to set his fellow slaves at ease.

Anyway, Hammond eventually brings Mede into town to fight another slave in a prearranged bout, the kind of savage brawl that would rightly be described as a human cockfight. Luckily Mede proves to be rather a natural grappler, handily whupping his opponent with a submission hold that simultaneously causes the fight to be conceded in Hammond's favor and disappoints the bettors since no blood was shed. Mede goes on to win all fights in which he is entered, and within the space of two weeks no one is willing to pit their slaves against the unbeatable Mandingo buck. Oddly, during Mede's last battle, the owner of his opponent unexpectedly dies right there on the tavern floor. The corpse's pockets are riffled through and while some cash is found there is also a deed to some land, but the exact details are obscure due to the poor penmanship found on the document. Since the deceased's slave was losing to Mede anyway, the fight is forfeited in Hammond's favor, winning him the man's slave and the deed.

Suddenly the fighting plot comes to a screeching halt when the author remembers that he has betrothed his hero to Cousin Blanche back at the Crowfoot plantation and has wasted one hundred and thirteen pages on useless bullshit and road trip stopovers, effectively derailing his own narrative in the process. So Hammond gives cousin Charles the $2500 to take back to the Major at Crowfoot, along with Blanche's ring and Jason the slave. Hammond then reluctantly gets his own shit together and prepares to make it to Crowfoot by the agreed-upon wedding date, meaning obtaining new clothes for himself and Meg, a stultifying process that is explained in excrutiatingly minute detail for far too many pages, and unwillingly leaves behind a distraught Ellen, who is fearful that she will be supplanted in Hammond's heart by his new white wife/prospective broodmare Then, when Hammond and Meg finally get underway, what does the author have up his sleeve for the readers? You guessed it: more road trip stopover anti-adventures.

The latest round of meanderings delights us with yet more overly-described meals and boring examples of Southern hospitality that serve no purpose to the story whatsoever and introduce us to Madison Church ("Mad" for short) a spoiled and gluttonous man-child of an age near Hammond's but with the emotional maturity and behavior of a child in the throes of the "terrible twos." Mad displays great distaste at all matters of male-to-female coupling, even among thoroughbred horses, his chief interest in life, and finds young Meg to be irresistible to the point of wanting the boy to join him and Hammond in the bed that will share overnight at a hotel. It is alluded to that Mad has his lard-ridden way with Meg, and the next day he nags and whines at Hammond, even resorting to blubbery tears in order to get Hammond to stop over at his mother's estate despite Hammond's frequently-mentioned intent to be at Crowfoot within a day. We are then treated to yet another (!!!) stop over and feast, complete with yet more displays of slaves for sale; the only ironic part of all this is that by this point even Hammond is bored with the direction in which the story is going, and Mad proves himself to be one of the most flat-out obnoxious, annoying and downright irritating creations in the world history of fiction. Dear readers, every moment spent reading about this character was an agony and I actually longed for another meal to be served so that the endless description of his fevered mastication would shut him up, no matter how briefly.

After leaving the noxious presence of Mad, Hammond ends up at another stopover, this time finding him obtaining a pair of mustee slaves (a mustee is a slave light-skinned enough to be nearly white) who run away on him almost immediately and then he finally makes it to Crowfoot. Along the way Hammond has made mention of Charles heading back to his home, having departed Falconhurst over a month prior, but he is constantly met with ignorance regarding any sort of a homecoming by Charles. Upon arriving to claim his bride, Hammond finds out that Charles never went home and absconded with the money, the wedding ring and, most offensively of all to all concerned, a slave that didn't belong to him. Slave stealing is just about the worst crime a white man can commit, so if he is caught and prosecuted it would shame his family beyond all hope of recovery. The only cure is to get Blanche and Hammond hitched as quickly as possible since it would be unseemly to charge an in-law with nigger-stealing, and if Charles did ever turn up again the whole incident could be passed off as "a mistake." None of this sits too well with the bratty Blanche, whose Scarlet O'Hara-style fantasies of affluence and a dream wedding have been dashed by her brother's douchebaggery, but she has no choice in the proceedings, no matter how petulantly she behaves. A lightning-fast ceremony performed by Blanche's preacher brother, Dick, seals the deal and Hammond and Blanche retire for a night of connubial bliss...

After very nearly escaping from the Crowfoot plantation in a state of unthinking outrage, Hammond buries a burning anger, makes nice with his new in-laws, and rides off with his new bride. But, you may ask, what was Hammond so pissed off about? Well, after putting the meat to Blanche it is quite obvious to Hammond that she may be a belle, but she sure as hell ain't no virgin, a fact that he points out to her in no uncertain terms, and for all intents and purposes she has sold him used goods. He demands to know who got to her first so he can find the guy and put a bullet through his head, but Blanche stays mum; it doesn't take the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Blanche was deflowered by her miscreant brother, Charles, but her internal reminiscence of her "violation" while the siblings played house a few years previous reveals that she took great pleasure in the act despite its forbidden nature. Blanche proclaims her virginity-until-Hammond over and over, but to no avail, and simply cannot figure out how he knows she wasn't "pure," despite the fact that her hubby had fucked scores of slave wenches for years on end. Hammond nonetheless resigns himself to his status of being victimized by the treachery of the Woodfords and forces Blanche to agree not to tell his father of her besmirched condition.

On the way back to Falconhurst Hammond recovers his runaway mustees and drops in on that asshole Mad again (thereby subjecting the reader to more of his infantile histrionics) gives him one of the mustees as his "body slave," and grosses out his host to the point of nausea by fucking Blanche right there in the same bedroom that he is sharing with the fat bastard. The next morning sees the journey back to Falconhurst lurching forward once again, with no end immediately in sight for travel-weary readers.

All of what you just read is a very merciful summation of two hundred and fourteen incredibly slow and dull pages, punctuated by repellant characters about whom no one in their right mind would want to read. As I have previously stated, I have read the abridged version of this novel, and most of the events contained in the chapters recounted here were kindly missing from the subsequent edition. The fact that someone actually got paid to edit this book for it's STAND-like monolith of a first edition is laughable.

NEXT: more road trips, nigger fights, marital tension and the inevitable return to Falconhurst (again)

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