The Black Mass of Brother Springer is a tough book to classify…or even recommend. A biting satire of organized religion, a send up of civil rights through the white gaze, a testimony on the consequences of fragile masculinity. There’s a lot going on here for such a short book.
The book’s writer Charles Willeford is one of my favorites. He writes crime novels with a unique voice that’s tough to compare. No less than Quentin Tarantino has said that Willeford is the biggest literary inspiration for his movies and I get it. Though stylistically they’re both quite different, Tarantino uses Willeford’s dialogic framework for repartee and monologues.
I liked much of this book; it’s tautly written and while I didn’t get a sense for the main character, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to as Willeford seemed more interested in telling the character through the story instead of vice versa. The story itself is just tough to stomach. The main character, a lazy writer, scams his way into a gig as a white Pastor shepherding a black congregation in Jim Crow era Jacksonville, Florida. He’s written more as an opportunist than a militant racist and yet he uses his position to do some crappy things, which is still racist.
Willeford himself writes with some sympathy towards the plight of black people at this time, even though Rev. Springer does not share it. He doesn’t think black folks should be treated the way they are but he doesn’t see how it’s his problem to solve. I get that, but when the plot makes it his problem (in a literal sense), I’m not sure I can accept “Well, it’s all just a grift” as an excuse. I know this was published in 1958 and going hard on the racism of that era is sometimes a sign of “faux wokeness.” Still…I’m not sure it works.
Read this if you’re a Willeford fan and have a strong stomach for such things. But be warned.