The author of the acclaimed novel, Reflex and Bone Structure, returns here in My Amputations, to the question of identity, the double, adventure, detection and mystery, but with more hypnotic power and range. In My Amputations he has his protagonist, Mason Ellis, (who may just be "a desperate ex-con" or a wronged American novelist out to right the wrong done to him) jump through flaming loops like a trained dog, so to speak. In other words, there seems to be no end to the troubles Mason Ellis faces.
His story takes him from the South Side of Chicago, to New York, with a stint in Attica prison, across America, Europe and into the primal depths of Africa. Mason, all the while, tries to convince the reader that he is the important American writer he says he is. Upon his release from prison he sets out to prove his claim. After an audacious bank-robbery and a couple of burglaries that are hilarious, he goes into hiding to escape the malice of one of his cohorts; and eventually flees to Europe. The irony is that he is now as much the runner as the seeker. After encounters with a Zuni ex-folksinger, kidnappers, the New York underworld, literary groupies, an Italian swordsman, a violent German secret society, an anti-bellum cotillion in rural Greece, he finds himself face to face (behind a mask) with his own destiny.
"My Amputations, Clarence Major's fifth novel, is an explosively rich book about a man persued by his shadow. Its protagonist is either a desperate ex-con who has become convinced that he is an important American novelist or a desperate American novelist who has become convinced that he--and most of what passes for literary life on the continent--is a con. Clarence Major has split the difference between Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Herman Melville's The Confidence Man to produce this dark, funny tale about the great American hustle. Partly a picaresque adventure out of Chester Himes, partly an Evelyn Waugh-sharp satire on the writing life, partly a determinedly self-reflexive and modernist fable about identity, My Amputations is distinguished by the extraordinarily inventive rhythms of its language. A book full of laughter and rueful sadness and swift contempt, its deepest resonance is the hunger to be healed." —Denise Levertov, Robert Haas, Jonathan Galassi, Sandra Cisneros (Jurors, Western States Arts Foundation)
My Amputations reveals "that Clarence Major has a remarkable mind and the talent to match." —Toni Morrison
"Since NO and Reflex and Bone Structure, Clarence Major has created characters who double-entendre themselves through the raucous and passionate environs their narrator shared with them. In My Amputations, the struggle to see, to speak, to understand our myriad fragmentations continues, with blues, guts, astounding wit: [it has] the libidinal textures of a fresh oil painting I wish I had commissioned." —Ntozake Shange
"This is Clarence Major's best novel, which means it is very good indeed-an emotionally powerful, inventice act of language that draws together influences from black music, poetry, painting, the blues, and experimental prose to show us the possibilities of literary art. Once again, Major proves he is a pioneer on the cutting edge of contemporary fiction." —Charles Johnson
"Clarence Major's fiction has always been distinguished by a universe of concern that does not compromise any truth to itself...but most importantly [My Amputations] enacts the process of finding his mature fictional voice. [It] is living fiction, as close to a truly organic text as we are ever likely to see." —Jerome Klinkowitz
Again, as in a recurring dream, Mason opened the closet door and stepped hesitantly into its huge darkness, its nonlineal shape: he pulled the door shut then crouched there on the floor--which seemed to be moving--with the breathing of The Imposter. This dimness was not illuminated by the glowing Mason felt. He could smell the man: his sweat, his urine, his oil. The skin of Mason's eyes was alive with floaters. Faintly in the background--perhaps coming through the wall of the next apartment--Sleepy John Estes was signing "Married Women Blues." Mason pushed hard for the beginning, some echo or view. Anglo-saxon, monosylabbles clustered there. He couldn't remember how it all started nor even his muses birth. He called her Celt CuRoi. Yet memory was expanding...Low clouds crawled against a terrible sky. Lots of rainstorm damage trees, house, fences. His birth-?-came like that. He swore to date, the year, the damage, the blood. And afterbirth...And his broken-grasping for sea, land, form. Why'd he remember overturned cars, the Great Flood, a woman up in a tree, words: nigger, jig, darkie, convicts at gunpoint working to rebuild a broken dam, a six-hundred-or-more death toll...? and, and from eighteen Woodrow Place? River moving out to lake, to sea, to ocean. Sea?...Already searching for it:to float upside down in its membranous-liquid grasp. Giant sharks might be deep in it but Celt would guard...yet she, too, was only a beginning-not a sailorette, joe, just ah...bug-examiner like Lil Massy: transparent wings, pink underbelly bright and silky as panties-mating dogs smell like a rainforest full of moss and rotten logs. First letter of alphabet fascinated them:a house:Egyptian., farmer's joke; picture on box of crayons; then D: door to darkness, closed-off mystery. Together they went down the earth-passage-underworld's first level. Celt and Mason dimly expected to encounter themselves waiting-locked in a dark, secret, everlasting closet. Instead, they stood uneasily on the bones of a dog-like animal dead a million years. On level two they plowed through the remains of a dinosaur already taped and labeled MRF. They uncovered the majority-but were too innocent to connect...to force. Strutters, diwalkers. V was clearly an upside-down hat: it protected them the way back up where - just before the exit - they stumbled into the clutches of cruel aunts with syphilitic-eyes, long-eared witches, drunk crab-shaped uncles, the broken-yet joyous, powerful, love-bound-spirit of the people: his - and by spirits, hers, too. They tasted salt, sugar and felt the frozen ground in winter; watched bird feel, were stung by fishfins. Turkey rot! Mason and Celt discovered it was possible to fly-even with broken wings: flying was not why you are, but how: and then why: it was also not rushing downsteam on a raft or being engulfed by a storm or swept away in a flood. It was how he got to know Celt. Before Celt he'd been a blind bat struggling to embrace the sky: his spirit existed before he was born: he simply stepped into it-as through it were a Union Suit. At sixteen he was unfinished; eyes: large, blank brown things. Did his mother Melba love him? She was certainly not his muse. Look at her apron: too clean: something is wrong. Is it that she doesn't like him much but loves...?