After creating the Tumblr Texts From Bennett in November 2011, Kansas City rapper Mac Lethal (real name: David McCleary Mac Sheldon) and his gangsta wannabe cousin Bennett and the texts they exchange became an Internet sensation. The meme blew up as quickly as it seemed to fade, as Internet memes are wont to do.
By ELAINA SMITH
The Kansas City Star
Lethal posted screenshots of text messages he received from Bennett, his cousin who is a white boy that thinks hes a Crip, is currently unemployed, has a girlfriend named Mercedes, and is one of the most unintentionally funny and brilliant souls on the planet, as explained on the Texts From Bennett Tumblr page.
Bennetts texts feature misspellings and swearing, ranging in topics from hooking up with women to selling weed to making fun of Lethal for buying Jamba Juice (jamba juice! Bennett texts scathingly, i bet when you were born da doctor said its kind of a boy!) The texts range from hilarious to jaw-dropping to unbelievable. Followers accused the Tumblr page of masquerading as truth, which prompted Lethal to create multiple posts asserting its authenticity as it gained popularity.
These possibly real text messages provide the starting point for Lethals new book, Texts From Bennett. Like the Tumblr page, its story straddles the gray area of memoir and fiction. Lethals book, however, is labeled a novel, adding more shadow to the gray area of the contents supposed reality.
The novel tells the story of how Bennett, his mother and her boyfriend come to live with Lethal during one summer after losing their home to foreclosure. Lethal, the fictions narrator, is a fairly successful rapper in his own right. He raps about day-to-day things people of all races go through. He lives with his fiancée, Harper, in a home in an undisclosed neighborhood of Kansas City. Harper, a snotty WASP from Vermont, does not appreciate having the newcomers in her life, and, as expected, chaos ensues.
Bennetts shenanigans range from stealing Harpers Adderall, to offending Lethals African-American neighbors with his gangsta speak, to stealing neighbors cats for reward money, to unleashing the wrath of his crazy girlfriend Mercedes on unsuspecting Harper. Intermixed with anecdotes of Bennetts behavior are texts he exchanges with his cousin that build the core of the book, both in humor and in likability.
(Women) thnk ur a vary good lissener. U make dem hot choclat and talk abut Team edwrd, Bennett accuses his cousin in one of his usual garbled texts after Lethal complains about his failures with women. Other text messages describe Bennetts favorite stuffed animal (named Hustla Da Rabbit) and his throwing an old tomato at a boss.
Bennett is crass and offensive, yet Lethal renders him not just as a cartoon character but a sympathetic being who wants to help his cousin. Bennett outs Harper after she cheats on Lethal with turtleneck-wearing, vegan Chad, saving Lethal from continuing the farce of a relationship. Bennett then tutors Lethal on how to pick up ladies with his Commandmints of Gittin B****z, a rather harmless list that includes treating women as friends (despite the name) and being kind to haters. The commandmints prove fruitful, as Lethal meets his future wife by the end of the book.
In direct contrast to Bennetts gangsta speak and lack of education, Lethal writes his narrative of this memorable summer in prose that feels heavy and clunky. Exotic word choices punctuate the writing, ringing off-key notes. In one section, Lethal describes Bennetts girlfriend Mercedes as having nomadic hair, exposing the retinas of her angry gaze. He ends this heavy description of Mercedes anger with one of the oddest notes in the entire symphony of the novel, writing that her eyes transformed colors like the four-hundred-year-old anticyclonic storm on the surface of Jupiter.
This extra effort to show Lethal as educated and enlightened accomplishes the opposite: the character of Lethal seems self-aggrandizing without much to temper the feeling. Ironically, Bennett remains the most fully realized or enlightened character within the story, ranging from ridiculous to thoughtful to absurdly selfish. Lethal is just pompous, despite admitting that Bennett has more within him than the ability to write ridiculous text messages.
By the end of the novel, Lethal wraps up this farcical story by shaping Bennett into someone who can teach Lethal a few things about life, surprising Lethal since he assumed he was the one teaching Bennett. The blatant attempt at irony within the conclusion an ending seen in the distance the moment the story began feels as clunky as the odd language choices. Ultimately, Lethals novel works best when its outrageously humorous; its attempts at introspection only produce a mangled reflection in the mirror.
Elaina Smith is a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Missouri- Kansas City and an intern this semester at The Star. To reach her, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.