...surprising, occasionally sappy but often lovely ... There are moments when this primer loses its focus. Black’s potted histories of women’s suffrage and the abolition movement might work as a conversation starter with his kids, but they are a little thin on the page ... And yet his tone is so lovely, his empathy so clear ... He does wonderful work breaking down the masculine coding surrounding his own behaviors ... A book in which a straight white dad lectures his straight white son on systemic racism, structural inequity and rape culture might sound like the stuff of tone-deaf woke-polemic nightmares, but A Better Man is blessedly clear of these afflictions. Black’s writing is modest, clear, conversational.
A Better Man is not funny, except in a half-the-population-is-monstrous way, but the wit and sensitivity at the core of his comedy are present ... We get fun behind-the-music dirt on the mythologies undergirding American masculinity: how the 'self-made man' notion, for instance, originated with a Kentucky senator praising industrialists whose success depended on slave labor. And there are straight-up pleas to kick it all to the curb ... I don’t believe letters to sons change sons, not much. Anyway, I assume Black’s son is already good, because his father is good, and that’s how it works. So what is this book? It’s a guy trying to make sense of things, at a transitional moment ... one could wonder whether even a good book can make a difference. But then you’re snapped back to Black’s simple decency, and intelligence and love for his son, and you think oh man, maybe.
It is obvious that this is a deeply personal book for Black ... Black’s essays are addressed directly to his college-bound son, but there’s something for everyone in these pages. Hand this to anyone who loved David Sedaris’ Calypso (2018).