Juice! by Ishmael Reed. 2011 Dalkey Archive, New York.336 Pages. $14.95. Trade Paper.
When Ishmael Reed spoke novelist listened. He would often speak to the freedoms possible in the novel form and practice such. And now, some decades after his first novel, Freelance Pallbearers, when he speaks the novelist continue to listen but are now joined by political activist on both sides of the divide and media scholars as well. This would be very much the case as a result of Juice! his 10th (and arguably most ambitious) novel that deals with the ordeal of one O. J. Simpson who was celebrated as a great professional football player who successfully made the transition to being a show biz personality in Hollywood.
Reed provides a narrative that carries the reader from June 1994 through 2009. During that time O. J. AKA “Juice.” was accused and stood trial for the murder of his wife and a male friend; was then sued in a civil suit by the family of both parties; and as a result of that verdict became widely thought of as guilty of the original murders (although once he was charged no other police investigations continued). And three years ago he was convicted of a crime that many thought was a set-up. And today one of the biggest African American professional football stars of all time sits in prison, some believe, for the original murder of his Caucasian wife who was also the mother of two of his children.
Ishmael Reed sleuths the trials and replays the ample evidence that was responsible for the acquittal by a jury in Los Angeles, the guilty verdict of the civil trial from an all white jury in Santa Monica and the most recent verdict that has him in prison today – unjustifiably as Reed very forcefully and expertly presents.
Juice! charts institutional racism in contemporary terms so that it is clear as a bell, even for the dimwitted. There will be more novels patterned after this nouveau thrust forward, especially as regards celebrity culture. This kind of novel, blending fact with fiction and sleuthing is like a literary social network, a 21st Century send up where the writer is not only an investigator but also a celebrity as well who illustrates his novel with cartoons of his own drawing. Juice! is not an easy read but what it depicts about celebrity culture is revelatory (where they are not unlike a cast in a large comic opera.) Reed continues in top form and ahead of his time.
--- David Henderson