The Emperor of Ocean Park

Close your eyes. Dredge up everything that you know about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Marinate on it for approximately 68 seconds.

Now try to imagine that Justice Thomas is actually a pretty nice guy (he is). Imagine that Justice Thomas takes a genuine interest in issues impacting the Black community (he does). Then think about his vote in Shelby County v. Holder; think about his concurrence in Fisher v. University of Texas; think about his invocation of the racist traditions of this country to shut down the sexual harassment claims of Black women, and then ask yourself do you give a damn that he is nice and that deep down, he cares?

Now wrap that whole process up and call it The Emporer of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter. This book follows the son of a prominent Black Federal Court Judge whose failed bid to the Supreme Court left him OD bitter. Then dad dies. And the son has to figure out a whole bunch of mystery stuff about his dad and his death that by the end of the book, I guarantee you, you will not care anything about. The Judge is shamelessly modeled on Clarence Thomas, except his wife happened to be Black. The book makes some weird attempt to humanize Black conservatives, which apparently goes hand-in-hand with pointing out the shortcomings of liberals when it comes to race. It seems taken for granted that rich Black folk be conservative, and in general reveals a lot about rich Black folk that I don’t recognize at all. Not that I’m rich, but I’ve been Black my whole life and this world is completely unfamiliar to me (I did recognize the Jack and Jill shout out, the single tie to any thing I could comprehend about this alleged brand of Blackness).

The last 150-200 pages of this book would have better served the tree that died for them than the world that has to read them. Few things disappoint in literature more than a mystery that solves itself into some shit that no one cares about. I found this book to be mildly interesting at some points, but largely uncompelling. The characters don’t make you care, the writing doesn’t grab your attention, the story stops and then starts and then sputters for several more days of reading than it can possibly justify. At the end of it, I didn’t feel like I took anything away from reading it, except maybe that Black conservatives are just as fucked up as I always imagined them to be.


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