Relationship Talk | African American Fiction (and More)

There’s no question sex sells. In the blurred world between urban romance and street lit, relationships are intense and sexual but always find a balance on that thin line between love and hate. To remind us about how crazy attraction to the opposite sex can be are these sentences, taken from this month’s selections:

  • My gray skirt hugged my backside like a long lost friend.
  • I felt like his addictive steel-gray eyes were firing bullets from an AK-47.
  • Behind all that arrogance and hardness was a gentle man who knew how to care for and take care of a woman. I could see it between his thighs—I mean eyes.
  • You got another woman, don’t you? C’mon, just tell me so I can kill both of y’all.

My pick of the month is something different. In Texts from Bennett, rapper Mac Lethal (check out his Pancake Rap shows his storytelling chops through the voice of his (imaginary?) cousin Bennett. The author’s portrayal of poverty, drug use, and the working poor white folks’ struggle to get by has serious street cred.

Pick of the Month

OrangeReviewStar The Long and Short of It | African American Fiction (and More) Mac Lethal. Texts from Bennett. Gallery: S. & S. Sept. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781476706870. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781476706887. F
David McCleary Sheldon, a white rapper from Kansas with the stage name Mac Lethal, parlays his online Tumblr postings from his gangsta wannabe cousin Bennett into a story that may or may not be based on real life. Bennett is a mess. The 17-year-old representing America’s white lower class believes he’s a Crip and refers to himself as “a boss hog gangsta.” Mac is a mystery to Bennett who believes rappers are supposed to have stripper poles in their homes while moving Bolivian cocaine. On the contrary, Mac is part of the 99% of musicians grinding out a living without being a superstar. Soon enough Bennett creates chaos in Mac’s life as the catalyst for Mac’s relationship blowup. Text messages between Mac and Bennett can be both hilarious and tedious, but Bennett’s man-child innocence and fervent loyalty carry the story. VERDICT Who says books with street slang can only be told from an African American point of view? Bennett’s voice is authentically rough and he knows how to get by on any means necessary. His Crip-esque ride or die loyalty will impress seasoned street lit readers, but at times lengthy sidebars drag down the story. Still, it’s an interesting and impressive debut. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/13.]

Hampton, Brenda. Hell House: Reality TV Drama. Strebor: S. & S. (Zane Presents). Oct. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9781593095369. pap. $13; ebk. ISBN 9781476746173. F
Despite a title suggesting a slasher film, Hampton chooses reality TV as a backdrop for her latest title. Six St. Louis residents volunteer to live in a house until the last one remains standing. Three guys (Roc, Jaylin, and Prince) move in with three women (Chase, Jada, and Sylvia), and the drama hits hard as the contestants set their sights on the $100,000 prize. The hell in Hell House comes from constant bickering as overweight Jada hates on Chase’s dynamite body, and streetwise Prince and Roc both are fed up with Jaylin’s arrogance. There’s hookup potential all over this work and panties do hit the floor, but with cameras filming, will the couples go through with the nasty deed? VERDICT An abrupt ending may disappoint readers, but there is plenty of juicy backbiting as Hampton’s characters struggle to coexist. Hampton fans will recognize this cast drawn from her previous novels (Full Figured; Don’t Even Go There, SLICK; How Can I Be Down?; Street Soldier;“Naughty” series), and give three cheers for chubby Jada, a hood chick who holds nothing back, including razor-sharp sarcasm and her fists.

Octavia, Grace. His Third Wife. Dafina: Kensington. Nov. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780758288813. pap. $15. F
Octavia’s sequel to His First Wife reconnects with Atlanta mayor Jamison Taylor, who is having a quickie marriage to his office assistant, Val Long. How does an ex-stripper who can’t write a complete sentence get a job for $75K and then marry a big-city mayor?  It all comes back to Jamison who has a past with Kerry, his first wife, and now finds himself deep into political maneuverings when an old college roommate is arrested with a huge cache of weapons. Deals are struck in The Rainforest, an after-hours bar where politically connected frat brothers decide how money will be distributed for programs designed to help Atlanta’s struggling poor. But Jamison’s fatal flaws are that he’s a risk taker who drinks too much, likes sex, and can’t completely break from Kerry. More money, more status, more problems. VERDICT The sudden switching from the third-person to the first-person point of view will jar readers. Lengthy flashback passages further muddy the story’s flow, but once the political skullduggery finally becomes clear, the last 30 pages clip right along but too little, too late. A jumbled storyline makes this work a marginal purchase.

Parker, Charmaine R. The Trophy Wives. Strebor: S. & S.  (Zane Presents). Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781593094652. pap.  $15; ebk. ISBN 9781451696554. F
Shayla, Amber, and Kyle enjoy lavish lifestyles provided by their wealthy hubbies, but each has some serious skeletons stuffed away in their gilded closets. Shayla has a robust sex drive and juggles three affairs with men who pleasure her in different ways. Kyle’s husband Bryce leads a double life but takes out his frustrations by heaping mental and physical abuse on his wife. Amber is a compulsive shopper spending thousands of dollars on high-end retail. Scandals abound in Parker’s fast-moving tale that will have readers shaking their heads over these fools’ warped betrayals. VERDICT In her second novel (after The Next Phase of Life) Parker, who is Zane’s sister, clutters her story line with too many different points of view. She further interrupts her pacing with sudden scene shifts. The various scandals are run-of-the-mill, but a huge last sentence twist promises a sequel. Purchase where the “Zane Presents” line is in demand.

Riley, Cole. Little White Lies. Strebor: S. & S. (Zane Presents). Nov. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781593095185. pap.$15; ebk. ISBN 9781476733517.F
Melvin is a Brooklyn high school basketball star contemplating turning pro after finishing his senior year. His abusive father verbally chides his every move, and older brother Danny is at the end of his rope with two pregnant girlfriends. When hot mess Yvette finally seduces Melvin with the help of cocaine and weed, his game legs are gone and he fails miserably on the court, costing his team a championship. Melvin later hooks up with shady characters, and a party spirals out of control when two white girls claim Melvin raped them. The former hoop star is railroaded to prison, something he’s totally unprepared to endure. VERDICT There’s a serious message here about false accusations, but way over-the-top sex scenes, drug use, and bizarre racial slurs make it difficult for readers to take the novel seriously. The author’s attempt to show how one unfortunate situation can ruin multiple lives is further hampered by a confusing narrative that jumps back and forth in time. Not a necessary purchase.

Self-Publishing Spotlight

I’m sure many librarians aren’t sure what to do about the wave of self-published titles landing on their desks.My day job is no exception. Here is a street lit title that caught my eye simply because the author practiced writing while serving a 20-year prison sentence for drug trafficking.

Ayers, Adrian. Ace in the Hole. Flatfoot Pub. 2013. 178p. ISBN 9780985207601. pap. $14.95. F
Mae Freedomly has it rough when her deadbeat boyfriend walks out on her and two kids. One child is newborn Ace. The many struggles of raising kids while burdened with inner-city poverty is Ayers’ theme as Ace grows to be something of a prodigy and leader. Ace’s integrity and loyalty pay off as he saves gangster Lucky Valentine from long prison bids. Lucky becomes Ace’s mentor and protector as the young man matures into a major player in the music industry. But nothing is easy for Ace as he has to deal with such hurdles as crooked cops, cheating women, and shiesty characters running scams in order to achieve his dream. VERDICT There’s a lot happening in this meandering, excessively detailed first novel. Yet Ayers knows the prison system, and the sections of Ace serving time, are the book’s strongest scenes. Not a national purchase, but certainly (like some local self-published works) worth adding to large collections as a show of support to local writers. Ayers grew up in Cleveland’s rough Longwood projects, so this will have appeal to the area’s readers.

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