Category Archives: Fiction

A History of African-American People [proposed] by Strom Thurmond As Told to Percival Everett & James Kincaid

If you need to have likable, believable characters, this IS NOT the book you need to read.  If you need to have nice tidy endings with some deep revelations, this IS NOT the book!  Ridiculousness, trash-talking, and riffing is the grit that carries the year long correspondence between the whack-a-loons that make up for hilarous, slightly offensive, quirky “novel”.

Strom Thurmond actually shows up a little over half-way through the book.  The correspondences of all involved only document the PROPOSED book title as Strom is trying to “clean-up” his act has he realizes his mortality is near.  I kept thinking that the Barton Wilkes character was going to be a manifestation of Strom’s senility…was I right in thinking so?  You’ll just have to read it for yourself.  The book is good for some laugh out loud moments and may be of deeper interest if you happen to work in politics, academia, and/or publishing.   I will hold to the assertion that this book was Everett’s and Kincaid’s statement to the establishment saying “all Y’all can kiss my ass!”

Online info regarding James Kincaid who I am unfamiliar with prior to this book left me disturbed and cold.  The sexual proclivities found in the novel could be his contribution to the book.  It was my suspicion that the sexual references added shock-value and elevated the bizarre faculties of all involved and was a way to keep the characters at a distance from the reader.  After a much generalized info on Kincaid’s research interests, however, it may have to do more with Kincaid’s research assertions which are not quite clear to me and troubling enough that I don’t want to investigate further.  I might consider reading Erasure by Everett in the far-off future since somewhere online I read that it garnered him many enemies, both Black and White.

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Filed under A History of the African-American People [proposed] by Strom Thurmond, Fiction, Kindle

Silver Sparrow…keeps it real.

One devoted man to two families, two daughters born months apart by two separate wives living in the same city.  One daughter, who is the secret, knows about the other daughter all while growing up.  Imagine that for a minute…going through all the changes and stages growing up girl and you know this story is filled with dramas…not way out there dramas for the entertainment of the community (i.e. reader or community inside the story), but deeply personal ones that show them wrestling, questioning, fumbling, seeking in earnest.

The first half of Silver Sparrow is narrated by the secret daughter Dana Lynn…whose formative years are deeply marked by the loss of a full fledged but loving father and his “other family” and her mother’s determination to ensure Dana Lynn has a better life than her “husband’s” other daughter who is only a few months younger than Dana Lynn.  The second half of the book belongs to Chaurisse…whose formative years are marked by the lack of “specialness” which she refers to as “silver” and no sense of achievement and loneliness.

This is now the 3rd book I’m reading consecutively by Jones and what I’m loving is how well she pulls back the layers on personal agonies and dramas.  She takes very few glossing overs or global leaps, opting instead to isolate circumstances, events, and thoughts into specific moments without burdening the story with a straight, flat linear style filled with unnecessary descriptions.  The story has history, rooted in the lives of the parents and their parents and what occurs even before we arrive on earth shows up as baggage in our lives.

In all three novels, there is a strong theme that the unknown is way more powerful in our lives than the known…whether it is a future we can’t foresee or the weight of living with untruths, half-stories and lies.  What also appeals to me is that the main characters grow and do not languish in some self-defacing pity.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for future work by Tayari Jones.

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Filed under African American, african american women, Fiction, Kindle, Library book, Silver Sparrow

The Untelling and Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Last night I completed Jones’ 2nd novel, the Untelling.  Both books, Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling, have very strong first person narrations.  For me, it was the strength of the characters voices that I found most compelling.  In Leaving Atlanta, there are 3 sections distinguished by the voices of 3 different fifth-graders in the same class, Tasha, Rodney, and Octavia…all impacted by The Atlanta Child Murders.  To my knowledge, it is the only work of fiction that draws from the travesty.  The story presents the vulnerabilities of childhood by using the language of children (very convincingly…first time I ever saw “flicktedy” in print) in creating a believable perspective on the behaviors and words of adults.   According to Jones’ Amazon page, she selected this subject to draw from for her first novel because, “This novel is my way of documenting a particular moment in history. It is a love letter to my generation and also an effort to remember my own childhood. To remind myself and my readers what it was like to been eleven and at the mercy of the world. And despite the obvious darkness of the time period, I also wanted to remember all that is sweet about girlhood, to recall all the moments that make a person smile and feel optimistic.”

The Untelling’s main character is Ariadne, who was impacted by the death of her father and youngest sister in a car accident when she was ten, and the scars and secrets that resulted in her, her mother, and older sister, survivors of the tragedy.  Ariadne seeks to offset the alienation she feels from her mother and sister by being of service in a field of social work and living vicariously through the lives of others.  After suspecting she is pregnant she becomes engaged to marry her boyfriend and deliver her baby, being consumed with this being the answer that will complete her in someway.  Through events that make her even more unsettled, she learns the power and damage of secrets and things left unsaid.  Jones’ statement on The Untelling, “The Untelling is a novel about personal history and individual and familial myth-making. These personal stories are what come together to determine the story of a community, the unoffical history of a neighborhood, of a city, of a nation.”

Because of the strength of narrative, I thought about the short stories of J. California Cooper and wondered if Jones’ novels would have been better rendered in short story format.  Even though I can’t quite describe why, I thought the unfolding of the plots was less well done to sustain in novel format.  In the Untelling, I was not drawn into the story as much as I like to be when reading a novel…as a reader, I remained outside the story, more than I did with Leaving Atlanta.  Maybe Jones’ made Ariadne’s voice to reflect her weaknesses and shortcomings, possibly her concern she showed for one of her GED students was intended to offset that aspect of her…not sure, but I remained outside of the story.  But in reflecting on Jones’ statement above, possibly my own myths keep me from engaging in a larger way with the lives of others in my community and not just someway of maintaining healthy boundaries????

With her first novel, it was definitely the language of the children and their parents that allowed me to “enter” inside the story as if I was among them versus standing outside of it.  I started Jones’ third and current novel last night, Silver Sparrow.

 

 

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Filed under African American, Author Links, Fiction, Kindle, Leaving Atlanta, Library book, The Untelling

Makeda, by Randall Robinson.

Makeda by Randall Robinson is my current read.  Years ago I had read The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks and The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to One Another and am a big fan of his mind and involvement in Pan-African world affairs.  What sets Makeda apart is it is a novel…and a novel with a beautiful cover (mine is a virtual one as the book is on my Kindle).   Learning to discern which books deserve to occupy hard-copy space and which should be “clouded” on the Kindle is the new challenge since I’ve gone all tablet-reader.

I’m 2/3rds through the book, but here are my thoughts thus far in random order:

1.  It is a coming of age story of a Black man written by a Black man.  Antithetical to Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, but I couldn’t readily come up with another work of fiction that meets this criteria.

2.  The subtle snarky wit displayed by the main character, Graylon March, through his flat, controlled, and intellectualizing view of life reminds me of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (one of my absolute favorite books).

3.  I’m also imagining an aging Robinson being guided to write this book as a way to do his part to counteract any gains lost, any momentum lost in knowledge for future generations.

4.  It reminds me of Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due with the imparting of knowledge while telling a complicated story.

5.  I’m also reminded of a statement by Toni Morrison in an interview…on the importance of having the presence of the elders in her stories.

Makeda is the title and also the name of Graylon’s grandmother, the single most person in his life he felt affirmed by growing up.  He has a nuclear family.  His father works in the insurance business and his mother is a housewife and his older brother is the more out-going, confident one as Graylon seems him.  The one his father is most proud of according to Graylon.

The first few chapters are a soft opening spotted with a young elementary age Graylon who sits daily with Makeda in her parlor.  It is a mutually loving relationship.  As the story unfolds, Graylon’s morose views and thoughts take hold and one time I felt like I was trapped by his self-absorption.  His goal is to be a writer and although I tired a bit of his rigorous thoughts, I am reminded of how I’ve always tended to pick an idea apart and turn it every which way inside of my own head.

The story is made heavy by Graylon’s views and his growing behavior of closing himself off from others as made complicated by the tensions, namely his father, found in his family life.

I’m currently at the point where Graylon is on the other side of his college career (so unlike Bigger Thomas’ eh?) and in Mali to find connections to Makeda’s dream-stories of past life regressions…stories she has only shared with Graylon and who Graylon hopes to write about.  Makeda and Graylon are shared spirits…Makeda is blind and can see and travel so much in her dreams and Graylon who can see and is alienated by his surroundings, cannot understand.

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Filed under African American, Fiction, Kindle, Makeda

Stand The Storm: A Novel by Breena Clarke, Little, Brown and Co., Hachette BookGroup USA, e-book edition 2008.

This is the author’s second novel.  I read her first, River, Cross My Heart, some years ago and only vaguely recall it.  As I started with Stand The Storm, the writing style is what I recalled.  Like the first novel, it is a grounded narrative with an even paced tempo.  As a reader I’m kept on the outside of the narrative…never drawn in.  The story remains grounded in an African American perspective in that the survival and growth of the characters lays in what goes on amongst them and between them and the White gaze is only anecdotal and supportive for moving the story along.  I think for me, not certain, that it was the historian John Blassingame who spoke to this being key to our survival in detail.

The characters are a family of needlefolk…Sewing Annie, her daughter and son, Ellen and Gabriel…extended members of the family Daniel Joshua and Mary.  The setting is urban life in the 1800s with bordering plantations in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland…a setting when compared to life further south affords a slight, slight more measure of physical movement for enslaved and free Africans of the time period which Clarke utilizes as a support for the development of the story.

The location of the novel centers around the back rooms of a tailoring shop where Gabriel has become the chief tailor.  Gabriel and his family are owned by Jonathon Ridley and Ridley owns the shop that he purchased from a Jewish tailor who Gabriel apprencticed under.  Aaron Ridley, the owner’s nephew oversees the shops but is less concerned with its daily runnings and the people who do the work than he is about hobnobbing at the local eateries…in turn, affording Sewing Annie, Gabriel, and others a great deal of personal freedom…but freedom that do not squander as is the focus of improving their lot and the lot of others when opportunities are present, stay at the forefront of their minds and doings. Sewing Annie and Gabriel have purchased their own freedom by burning the midnight oil sewing military uniforms.

I’m just under half-way through this book and the extended family is growing to include a new woman freshly escaped from slavery along with 8 children.

Breena Clarke’s website

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Joplin’s Ghost, Tananarive Due, Atria Books, New York, 2005, Kindle

I abandoned The Artist’s Rule…not due to any reason associated with the book but my I’m not ready to focus on any spirit/life work right now.  Instead I found myself reading Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due…my second foray into what is labelled sci-fi/paranormal genre.  My first was an Octavia Butler novel (I can’t recall which one) that I commanded myself to finish.  It was among the first books I dropped for Bookcrossing.

Joplin’s Ghost went beyond what I expected! The story is woven seamlessly and beautifully with  gems of history (and I guess that all good fiction writers do this) which captivated me to want to know so much more about Scott Joplin and kept me reflecting on the trails  and trials that early artists had to create and blaze.  Due made the personal agony very real by pitting Joplin’s thoughts and emotions and ego against the thoughts and emotions and ego of an uprising young woman coming of age in current times.

The book opens with Scott’s voice and the next chapter is the voice of Phoenix, the artist in contemporary times and continues to flip back and forth until their experiences merge intimately and passionately in the middle of the book (which held me wondering where it was all going and not at all predictable) and the end of the book their lives (Scott’s and Phoenix’s) battle to separate.  But what is history if not a mirrored reflection for us to study as we go forward…can you say Sankofa.

Due creates two parallel love stories; one being Scott’s love and passion for his second wife, Freddie; the other, Phoenix’s and Carlos’s,  a young music journalist who is the only one willing to believe Phoenix’s encounters with the ghost of Joplin.  There are a hosts of supporting characters which are interesting but slightly predictable in their roles…but the story development makes up for what lacks in character development and the central characters have strong situations and good personal dialogue.

In addition to exploring musical history, Due also handles the world and violence associated with hip-hop moguls, along with the dynamics of family relationships to create a very natural feel to the tensions and the dramas.  I think it would be a great cross-generational read with teenager not only for the educational resource but the action in the story is fast-paced enough for young people and the situations the characters continually face sparks plenty of opportunities for moral and philosophical and financial discussions.

To find more out about the book:

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Joplin’s-Ghost/Tananarive-Due/9780743449038

I will be reading more books from Due.

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Filed under African American, Authors, developing artists, Fiction, history, Joplin's Ghost, Kindle, Multi-racial, musical, musical

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

(Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009)

I started reading this a few months ago and was enjoying the story but family matters with my parents and children overshadowed everything.  I started re-reading a few days ago and hope to return to posting as I go along rather than when I complete the book.

The opening sentence: A gray braid falling over each shoulder, Tia Josefa stuck her head out of the window of Las Agujas, the embroiderers’ cabin located just behind the main plantation house.

Visually, I loved the gray braids over each shoulder, and the fact that there is an embroiderers’ cabin appealed to my love of just about all things involving cloth and stitch.   I’m looking forward to seeing how the novel unfolds.

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Filed under african american women, African Diaspora reading challenge, Daughters of the Stone, Fiction, matriarchy, plantation life, Puerto Rico