1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 37 and 38: Whoreson and Dopefiend by Donald Goines

Just because Black History month is over doesn’t mean I cant read Black authors! During my Black History Month readings I came across Donald Goines (Black Girl Lost and Inner City Hoodlum), and I fell in love with Goines’s story telling, not because his prose is particularly elegant (William Faulkner Goines is not!), but because it had an edge and also came from a perspective that I am not personally familiar with. I became quickly addicted to Goines palatable prose and fast paced narratives, and so I picked up a copy of Whoreson and Dopefiend (two titles that just jumped out at me), and was not let down.

 

Whoreson

 

 

Whoreson, though enjoyable at times, is hard to read because its narrator is an exploiter of women (or of anybody within his reach). He is born to a prostitute who named him Whoreson at birth, and raised in the environment, Whoreson is taught to hustle at a young age. He is ultimately an aspiring capitalist who hopes to make a small personal fortune via the oldest profession in the world. I’m not sure if Goines’s own persona ego was projected into Whoreson (Goines himself was sentenced to prison for pandering), or whether is a was a calculated personality trait written into the character, but Whoreson certainly has a romantic notion of himself, with comments like; “Pimp hard daddy, pimp hard”, “Pimping was a twenty-four hour job, but I meant to pimp twenty-five”, “I know that fate had dealt me a terrible blow. I had been gifted with a tender dick”, and “As far as I was concerned, there were two categories of people: One group consisted of tricks and the other groups consisted of players. And I was born to play.” Whoreson’s descriptions of how stellar his love-making is are at time laughable, and when juxtaposed alongside instances of rape and exploitation, it makes the book one that is hard enjoy for its narrative. There are moments of self-examination that offer a glimpse into the human side of the narrative, such as when Whoreson notes and when “Faced with poverty on one side, ignorance on the other, we exploit those who are nearest to us.” But even after such realizations he still goes on to exploit women, commit fraud, and seek out revenge of those who have already found themselves in the figurative gutter of life because of their poor life choices. In the end, Whoreson is offered a lifeline to the highlife at the same time an albatross is tossed upon him to weigh him down in the doldrums of prison life for some years before he can enjoy his triumph. The romanticised exploitation of women makes this particular novel one that is not easily enjoy in a casual nature, but still offers some insights into how the capitalist structure, when appropriated by those who already find themselves poorest quarters of American life, find only the American dream is a soul corrupting animal that eats innocence and exploits weakness. In one passage Whoreson is referred to as a “strange fruit”, perhaps an inter-textual reference to the Abel Meeropol song of the same name, made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcCm_ySBslk ).   Can Whoreson be seen as the victim of the white hegemony, a corrupted and twisted version of the person he could have been outside of the capitalist system, or does his embracement of said system make him like those who have victimized Black Americans? I’m not sure. This novel doesn’t sit well with me, but there is something to be taken out of it, whether intended or not.

If you liked this:

 

I’m not sure what I would recommend. Iceberg Slim’s writing was apparently an inspiration for Goines, so I imagine that if one enjoyed Whoreson, one might also enjoy Slim’s Pimp. But I cant make any promises.

 

Dopefiend

Of the four Goines novels I have read, Dopefiend is easily the most ambitious and most refined. It is not the same linear fashion of the other novels. We do not simply follow one person’s downward spiral in a system that has doomed them to failure and offered no easy way out that doesn’t come at a high cost. Instead we follow a number of characters. A drug dealer with twisted desire for power, a loyal girl friend whose supportive family life has not equipped her the tools required to sidestep peer pressure, a boyfriend who does not hesitate to drag his girlfriend down with him in order to exploit what little she has to offer, and a series of drug addicts whose addiction has lead the to resort to thieving or selling their bodies, practices which leave their lives perpetually hanging on a string. It is not the romanticised endings that appeared in Inner City Hoodlum and Black Girl Lost, where protagonists go out with guns blazing, nor is it the romanticised exploitation of Whoreson. Pork, the dealer, is certainly the eager to exploit dopefiends, most especially women. A rotund and not at all attractive man, Porky was bullied and teased as a child and rejected by women his entire life, until he started dealing. That is when he realized the power of drugs. Cautious never to use himself, he enjoys humiliating women and men a like, though forcing desperate women to copulate with his German Shepherds is a particular preference of Porky’s. Terry and Teddy are a young couple whose relationship is destroyed by drugs and Teddy’s abusive nature. Terry becomes hooked on drugs before the two break up, and soon, not even desiring to get, but to just fight off the dope sickness that accompanies withdrawals, Teddy is off stealing while Terry, under the guidance of a pregnant heroin addict, Minnie, turns to prostitution to pay for her habit. Teddy watches two friends get shot down by some over anxious security guards and killed whilst attempting to shoplift. Terry finds herself under the weight of an heavyset white man, and as Goines writes: the “only thing that stopped her from running out of the room was her terror of the horror of drug sickness.” This is an interesting observation which illustrates how prostitution is a form of capitalist rape. The duress under which Terry lays if the fear of severe withdrawals, and though she consents under this duress to turn her body over to a man whose name she doesn’t know. By the end of the novel suicide is embraced as an “ending of horror, the beginning of peace”, while Porky decides that capital punishment is required to settle a score with some would-be thieves, while another of the novel’s issues finds a new home in a mental institution. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, each of these characters find a different way in, and out of the world of heroin, and unlike the hustlers, pimps and dealers of Goines’s previous work, there is no romantic ending, just a cautionary tale that illustrates the exploitive nature of capitalist society and the pains that people go to in trying to escape poverty and persona pain. Not exactly beautifully written prose, it is potent nonetheless. And if the image of a pregnant woman hanging from a ceiling with the head of her stillborn child hanging from between her legs as the corpses twists over a pile of excrement isn’t enough to warn you off drugs, I’m not sure what will.

 

If you like this, try:

 

Traingspotting, by Irvine Welsh. A similar tale with likable characters, who try to escape the unfulfilling existence of working-class life and find that heroin may be an easy escape at first, but the withdrawls that follow, and the nature of the addiction is a high price to pay, most especially in the post-AIDS era where shooting galleries serve to propagate a deadly disease that enters a frantic and painful race with the heroin to see which can destroy a life first.

 

Junky, by William S. Burroughs. An autobiographical account of a heroin addict/dealer who neither demonizes, nor praises drugs, and dispels the cautionary tales that insist recreational use will lead to addiction. Burroughs’s account suggests that habits are not the product of one or two experiments, but rather a pattern of behaviour, but that recreational use, while perhaps not morally wrong, can lead one who is not fully aware of the nature of drugs into a downward spiral.

 

Word I thought I’d look up:

 

Connivance: Secret plotting or an unspoken encouragement of wrong doing.

 

Copping: Means to catch somebody, hence we refer to police as ‘cops’ because they catch people. Also used to mean ‘steal’ and also a slang term for obtaining drugs.

 

Virulent: Very poisonous or malicious.

 

Traipsing: To walk ploddingly/

 

Ofay: Slang term to describe a white person. Origin unknown! Perhaps Pig Latin for foe? Though the little research I have done states Pig Latin came up in the 1920’s, and ‘ofay’ was used commonly in the 1800’s.

 

Georgia: Considered to be a ‘beautiful’ state, it was appropriated to describe women who were beautiful.

 

Harry’s Super Lounge: A lounge in New York, and I am pretty sure it is the once also referenced in Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, but I believe its name has evolved over the years and I cannot pin point the reference exactly.

 

Abscess: Pus filled sore on the flesh (of course), interesting, it is Latin for “going away”, because when pus oozed out the Latin speaking folk would say that the body’s humours were “going away”.

 

Empyrean: Highest part of heaven, from the Greek for fire.

 

Fool-man-shoe: I cam across this one and thought it was related to foomanshoo (sp?). It apparently is a reference to a man who tries to step into shoes that are figuratively too big for him to fill, not related at all to its phonetic brother.

 

Sycophants: A person who flatters somebody with authority in hopes of personal gain, from the Latin for shower.

 

Strychnine: A poisonous plant used for drugs that deal with nervous system stimulants. It is commonly a pesticide.

 

Nembutal: Essentially the opposite of strychnine, a barbiturate, or nervous system depressant. Can be used in euthanasia.

 

Paregoric: Opium based pain killer, used sometimes by people trying to get through withdrawals.

 

Dilaudid: An opioid used for pain relief, a derivation of morphine. Vets use it.

 

Dionine: Also an opiate pain killer.

 

Trepidation: Apprehensive, from the Latin, to startle.

 

Chronic frustration anxiety: An example of Goines’s laziness and ignorance. Essentially a mental illness, which, according the novel Dopefiend, causes one to regress to a childlike state of innocence because a traumatic event has scared them. It is not a real illness.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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