Black Ice: layers of reminiscences

Let’s focus on chapter 7. We have started to discuss the ways that Cary’s narrative is crafted. I have identified elaboration and reflection as ways that she develops her narrative. She takes her time, returns to a phrase (such as “turn it out”) or an idea (Pap’s stories) and reflects back and forth. This is noticeably different than Tobias Wolff. If his is a fast-car ride on the roads of his past, without much in the way of back-seat driving from the adult author, Cary’s stays mainly in place. Think of her out on the pond–but not skating, walking, observing.

So, chapter 7 provides two good examples of the ways Cary elaborates her narrative, takes her time: the pot-smoking episode in the first half of the chapter; the next day out on the pond in the second. And in both cases, the episodes are layered with reminiscences that, as she puts it, the author audits. Notice the way she works Shakespeare (sonnet 64) and Alice in Wonderland and African storytelling into the layering of memory–it’s quite impressive. There is a reminder here, if nothing else, that autobiographical writing, whatever the focus, needs the same sort of development and depth we expect from other genres. And perhaps particularly so if it is going to take on something such as racial identity.

In this way I audit the layers of reminiscences, checking one against the other, mine against my schoolmates’. I trust the memory of my resentment…. But it’s also true that my memory is a card shark, reshuffling the deck to hide what I fear to know…. (127)

I suggest that in this layering, the author also moves forward on a key element of her conversation: the complications of race. If the book overall has the purpose of showing what it means to grow up black in America, from the author’s perspective, then this chapter complicates that perspective by indicating that there is room for error.


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