One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding

One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding. Robert Gover. Titusville, NJ: Hopewell Publications, 2005. 225 pages.

I first heard about One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding last year in a writing workshop with Bobbie Louise Hawkins. She suggested the book for it’s effective use of monologue.

The second time someone mentioned the book to me was after a reading at the The Laboratory of Art & Ideas. I had read the first chapter of my manuscript Beats the Blank, and a man in the audience came up to me afterwards and asked if I’d read the book by Robert Gover. I told him I hadn’t but since it had come my way twice by two different people I would for sure check it out. I ordered it the next week.

In his introduction, Gover talks about some of his earliest encounters with black slang ? coming from spending summers in Kentucky. I’m not sure what part of Kentucky he was talking about but I was a little more than intrigued. I wondered if he was able to capture the regional black ? dialect of the region. And when he said he wanted to write a serious ? novel about racism, I was so happy I had got the book. And now after reading it, I’m still happy.

The novel is structured as alternating monologues by two characters: J.C. Holland (a white male college student) and Kitten (a black female prostitute). With the voice of J.C. Holland, Gover expresses the ignorance and arrogance that is at the heart of racism ?. And with the voice of Kitten, Gover not only captures nuances of the then current black slang ? (like one of my favorite words: ofay), but conveys a paradigm shift that brings both characters to life.

The language of both characters was dated ? but still felt authentic. And the attitudes were all too contemporary. The logical acrobatics J.C. Holland performs to justify, explain, and outright deny his actions are the same today as they ever were. And according to Gover’s introduction: word on the street had it that Malcolm X spoke highly of the novel, and Eldrige Cleaver applauded it in his book, Soul On Ice. ?

There are parts of this book that are dated, not just in the language but also some of the politics (for example the segregated restaurant). But in its time, the book was spot on, as Gore Vidal wrote in his 1962 review. The attitudes behind the politics and behaviors of both characters remain lamentably relevant, and Gover captures each of these characters clearly. I found myself taking mental notes on his style and writing. This novel remains very worthwhile.

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