Author: Gloria Naylor (yes, that Gloria Naylor)
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: God help me, but just bear with me for a moment. Back when I stumbled across the information about Johnny Gosch and the whole Franklin Scandal, I did a search and somehow ended up on the site of a woman called Eleanor White – I can no longer recall the exact link that got me there, but believe me, I got there. Anyway, Eleanor is a person who believes in gang stalking, meaning that organized groups of government entities and private citizens stalk her, breaking into her home, wearing out her clothes, breaking her furniture, leaving mounds of dirt on her kitchen floor, tapping her phone calls, harassing her at work, following her every move and using advanced technology to read her mind. The site had some unintentionally hilarious moments, like when White or someone else posted pictures of some very ratty long johns worn through at the crotch as proof that someone was breaking into their home and wearing out their clothes.
But ultimately, there was nothing funny about any of it because no matter whether or not you believe these people’s claims, the fact remains that they think this is happening to them and some are terrified. Regardless, the first link on the Alphabetical Site list White had on her site was to a review of Gloria Naylor’s 1996. So I had to get a copy. It took me a while to make myself read it. And I don’t even really want to discuss it here because I know that the end result will be a lot of e-mails if not comments from people who genuinely think they are victims of gang or multiple stalkers and will accuse me of being part of the vast conspiracy of people loosening the buttons on their coats, taking their new tires and replacing them with bald radials in order to make them miserable, or beaming thought rays into their brains to inspire suicide. But I read it and by my own messed up, self-imposed rules, discuss it I must.
Availability: Published in 2005 by Third World Press, it is still in print via the publisher’s website or you can get a used copy here:
Comments: I am a grad school dropout. I finished one semester and realized I was just not cut out for it. I was 26 and didn’t want anybody telling me what to read anymore because I just wanted to be left alone with my true crime, my conspiracy theories, my Loch Ness monster photo analyses and my Fay Weldons. I flat out didn’t have the mental discipline it took to get my Master’s, which was no surprise really because as an undergrad, I would stay up until the wee hours after studying to read the books I wanted to read, sometimes faking my way through classes because I couldn’t bring myself to read Beowulf or Mrs. Dalloway. But in that one semester of grad school, I took an African-American women’s writers class and studied Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor. We read The Women of Brewster Place and Mama Day, the latter being not a great novel, but not a bad one either. And the former, in addition to winning a National Book Award in 1983, was a favorite of Oprah, who starred as one of the characters in the mini-series based on the book.
I wonder if Oprah has read 1996. I wonder what she thinks about this book, about what has happened to Gloria Naylor. Something in me tells me she hasn’t read this book. Nor have most Naylor fans who may stumble across this discussion. I am using large quotes from this book in order to discuss it thoroughly and if it seems like I am ridiculing Naylor or anyone else who believes in mind control or gang stalking, I’m not. But if I don’t use her words and react to them with candor, it will be impossible to show why this book is so shocking and so odd.
Gloria Naylor purchased a dream home on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. She set out to spend her summers there, relaxing away from New York and gardening. All was idyllic except for Eunice Simon’s cats. Her neighbor’s cats routinely dug and defecated in her garden. Visiting with Simon did Naylor no good and relations between the two degenerated. Things came to a head when Naylor put out poison to kill tree rats and ended up killing one of Simon’s cats instead. Yes, as in every book I read these days, there is a dead cat in 1996. Things spiral completely out of control when Naylor loses it in a supermarket and snipes at Eunice, “You bitch.” Simon hears “Jew Bitch” and it’s katy bar the door.
At this point, the book slides completely into speculation on Naylor’s part, a retelling of what she thinks must have happened (and bear in mind, Eunice Simon is a pseudonym, as are most of the names in this book, so trying to research what happened to Naylor is impossible). According to Naylor, Simon’s brother is highly placed in the National Security Agency, and though he is tired of his oversensitive sister, he finds that Naylor has tenuous social ties to Black Muslims and begins to make her life hell on those grounds. Using the anti-Jew sentiment that Eunice misheard in the supermarket combined with anti-Semitism perceived as the aim behind Black Muslim groups, Dick Simon from the NSA not only launches an investigative campaign against Naylor, but he also calls in the local ADL to assist stalking and tailing her.
Naylor’s garden is killed off by stalkers. Her home is broken into. She is followed everywhere she goes. Her computer is hacked. Three students recruited by the NSA to torment her – she calls them The Boys – terrorize her at all hours. A friend who visits her is threatened. She returns to New York and the organized stalking continues. Every few minutes, cars stop and open and slam close their doors outside her apartment. Neighbors let the NSA set up a computer and satellite in their home so that thought rays can be beamed into Naylor’s brain. These thoughts they send her are meant to cause her to try to kill herself. When Naylor fights back against the thought rays via inner strength, the NSA ups the ante and begins to read her thoughts and respond to them in real time via typed words on a computer, a sort of intercranial instant message conversation. Untold amounts of money and man hours are spent on tailing and antagonizing Naylor, who accidentally killed a cat and spoke admiringly of the Million Man March.
I am not going to dither here as others have who have read this book, refusing to comment on the factual truth of the events as Naylor perceives them. Outside of sites on organized and gang stalking, you will find scholars weasel out of dealing with the horror of the content by stating the largely irrelevant: that whether or not you believe Naylor was a victim of organized citizen and government stalking, isn’t this an interesting look at race relations in America, a sober reminder of the potential for a tyrannical police state or a fascinating combination of narrative fiction and speculation? That’s some bullshit right there, folks.
I won’t waffle because it is a condescending move not to state facts plainly because I don’t want to look like I am calling a renowned writer crazy. Yes, race relations are still terrible in this country. Yes, the government is intrusive. And maybe Naylor set off a Jewish neighbor with some ties to the NSA and Naylor was investigated a bit rigorously as a result. But nothing else here that Naylor describes as a fictional narrative of true events is even plausible. There are those who think that the fallout of her dispute with her neighbor caused Naylor to become mentally ill. I have no idea. But this book is full of delusions.
When a person says they are stalked, I can believe them. When a person says they were investigated rigorously by the government, I can believe it. Believe me, I can believe it. We all have stories to tell in this post 1984, post 9/11 age. But when a person tells me that the government has been reading their mind with a computer and a type of satellite, typing in responses to their thoughts in an abusive argument, not only can I not believe it, but it brings into doubt even the rational, reasonable accusations the person made. Given the paranoiac belief that Jews are fueling the attacks against her, reliance that Naylor has genuine understanding of what happened to her is crucial to being able to tolerate this book as much more than an anti-Jewish polemic in which a misunderstood insult in a grocery store can launch the entire force of the Anti-Defamation League in a campaign of terror. But then again, I also think only a True Believer in the utter corruption and complete, almost God-like competence of our government will be able to believe the whole of 1996.
This is gonna be one of my longer discussions so read the rest under the jump.