House of Cards: Randall Deals With Pushkin and Wu-Tang


Alice Randall courted controversy in 2001, retelling Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone With the Wind from a slave’s perspective in her debut novel, The Wind Done Gone. Her fearlessness continues in Pushkin and the Queen of Spades. Training an eye on the modern black bourgeoisie, Randall tells the story of Harvard-educated Russian-lit professor Windsor Armstrong, a black woman who endured the double humiliation of rape and teen motherhood to raise a son (named Pushkin after the part-black Russian poet) who has disappointed her by becoming a successful pro football player, engaged to a Russian lap dancer named Tanya. To sort out her anger, she reflects upon her life as a girl raised in the Detroit ghetto and schooled among the nascent black middle class only to fall victim to the oldest of stereotypes. Windsor is pained to see her son embody those same stereotypes. “In his choice of football and his choice of Tanya, I see only the base commonality of the thing, the stereotype come to life,” she laments. “A hundred years after Du Bois, too many souls are still chasing after some stringy-headed girl who should be long-forgotten.”

Despite some narrative stumbling blocks—at least two tragic mulattoes too many, an unbelievably pat ending, and the most awkward RZA name-check in literary history—Randall manages to craft a compelling story about individuality, race, and motherhood.