John Ridley's A Conversation with the Mann is almost too engaging and readable for its own good. Ridley tells a disturbing, yet still completely compelling story that is so good, you can almost get caught up in enjoying it and forget he's got quite a strong message in there too. The novel (and it is a novel) tells the story of Jackie Mann--a comedian from Harlem, born in the late 30s--who overcomes tremendous racism to become a "success" at least as he thinks it is. So many times in the novel, Jackie is forced to swallow his pride, to sell out, to give in, all for what he believes is the right thing, his way to the top. Jackie's story is juxtaposed against the civil rights movement of the sixties. Jackie is at the height of his fame when that movement reached its crescendo. He tries to ignore the messages of that movement, but ultimately, he cannot. He makes a choice--the end results of which are a departure for him--it's a depressing, but uplifting at the same time. Jackie's story is amazing and the early years are especially upsetting--but that's what makes the novel so important. Read it, enjoy it, think about it.
Ridley has a knack for creating protagonists that are hard to root for, and Jackie Mann is another example of the realism Ridley injects into his work. No superheroes or perfect imaginings of humanity, just a man's story, ambitions and flaws.