"Honky" written by Dalton Conley

Book Review by Stephen Earley Jordan, II

A historically accurate image of old-school, segregated New York, Dalton Conley's autobiographical "Honky" reflects on his youth, and his artsy odd-job parents, as the only whites in the Lower East Side housing projects before its gentrification-where he's considered the neighborhood "honky".

Extremely elementary, Conley's first-person narrative sadly belittles the readers' intellect by means of its oversimplification and continuous reiteration of the obvious piece of information that he cannot assimilate, thus all the time reserving only enough space in his life for one friend (of color) at a time.

Conley barely touches the surface of race, class and gender relations, despite the fact that "Honky" dives deep into Conley's boyhood dull-wittedness, as he turns to thievery. And, when he's caught, he doesn't learn the value of a dollar, but the value of withholding information to save your own tail-feathers. Ironically, Conley doesn't learn the value of life either, subsequent to his best friend being shot, as he boasts to acquaintances (apparently to gain their favor) regarding the occurrence of which he truly had second-hand knowledge. And, sadly he confesses to the reader that his obsessive-compulsiveness was the cause of a house fire, but never took the full blame.

Soon though, Conley overhears a supposed friend refer to him as "socially awkward"-only then we realize the conflicts are only internal and are not due to the fact that he's white, but because he is indeed socially awkward (as noticed when his parents and younger sister effectively communicate with people of other races).

Just like The Jefferson's tv sitcom, but white-this middle-class Conley family eventually moves to a new location (were they ever really low-income?), Roosevelt Island, still in New York, where his life seems to change for the better. As if speaking to a new audience, book's tone changes into his sociology-professor voice in the last chapter or so, loosely summing up the book with theories on cultural capital. This well-arranged book, with its short-story-like chapters, doesn't reflect Conley's true writing ability. For a more intense, thought-provoking read, be sure to read his essays in other publications.

"Honky" written by Dalton ConleyBook Review by Stephen Earley Jordan, II

© Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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