It was not simply that Emma Jean Peace desperately wanted a daughter after giving her husband six sons. She wanted to shower on a daughter all the lov...moreIt was not simply that Emma Jean Peace desperately wanted a daughter after giving her husband six sons. She wanted to shower on a daughter all the love, pampering, consideration and care she did not receive as the dark-skinned child of a woman who heaped unimaginable pain and suffering upon a child whose only sin was to be born black, literally.
Adolescent Emma Jean suffered indignities not dissimilar from those suffered by Celie in “The Color Purple,” only her Mister was her mother, a title cruelly unearned. So when grown Emma Jean cuts off all ties with her mother, marries a not so bad poor country laborer named Gus, who cries when the heavens do, and gives him six sons, she is sure that seven is the charm.
But alas, with the help of midwife Henrietta, Emma Jean gives birth to another son. Undaunted, she decides right then and there, to pass her new son off as her daughter, and uses blackmail to bind the midwife’s complicity.
Emma Jean names her faux daughter Perfect.
Set in the rural, cruel, but hauntingly evocative American south of the early 1940’s, this remarkable and totally credible tale of gender identity, dogged determination, family, sexuality, and unconditional love envelopes one into the complicated world of the Peace family
The six young Peace boys—James Earl, Woody, Bartmaeus, Sol, Mister and Authorly—are awed by their beautiful new sister, and are both respectful and protective of her. “I’ll be glad when she’s old enough to play with us,” Sol muses with wonder. “She ain’t gon’ play with us, fool!” the bright and knowledge-seeking Authorly says. “She’s a girl, and girls is real delicate. They not tough like boys, so they have to play with other girls.”
For eight years the lie lives flawlessly. The modesty of the times never allowed Gus and his six sons to ever see Perfect naked. Diapers were changed, and the child was bathed and dressed by mother Emma Jean only. Even Perfect, with no knowledge of anatomy, grows up completely unaware that the little appendage dangling between her/his legs is male genitalia.
And in every other sense and sensibility, Perfect lives up to her name. She is quite simply a beautiful child, and Emma Jean sacrifices much of the family resources to make sure she is dressed in the finest the family’s little money can buy, parading the child before church and community with a pride that borders on haughtiness.
It is when the truth is discovered that all hell breaks loose. And though Emma Jean is rightly blamed for the deceit, it is heartbreaking to witness the community condemnation heaped upon the innocent child, renamed Paul, who must now suddenly be a boy in the fish bowl of an unforgiving society. Even Paul’s father Gus, normally a decent guy, resorts to horrendous cruelties when trying to make his former daughter, now growing young son, be something he has no clue of being.
The great saving grace of this very moving story is the combined humanity of Paul’s six brothers. Each brother is so distinctively defined with delicate brush strokes of caring, emotion, heart and compassion that much of Paul’s survival and emotional growth is dependent upon them, who, in some ways, still protect their little brother with the same fierceness applied when he was their little sister. The full story of Perfect Peace is so rich and complicated, that there is little space here to chronicle its remarkable trajectory. Suffice it to say that this is one helluva read, and one of epic proportion. Mr. Black’s story-telling skills and prose are nearly as good as Toni Morrison’s. I am one of his newest fans. And this great and powerful book will haunt me for many years to come. (less)
These days, being out about your homosexuality is about as brave, bold and groundbreaking as being in an interracial relationship, or being a light sk...moreThese days, being out about your homosexuality is about as brave, bold and groundbreaking as being in an interracial relationship, or being a light skin black person choosing not to pass for white. Oh sure, there are many with left-over mindsets from the dark ages, and some of the so-called brightest thinkers of the twenty-first century can still find something to hate about one group or another. Hell, there are still real live people out there who believe being left-handed is demonic.
So chronological progress doesn’t rid us of prejudice. It just waters it down, drop by drop.
Having said that, and with deference to DeMarco Majors, John Amaechi and Jason Collins, Michael Donovan’s brisk and pulp-fiction-esque novel “Football Games,” chronicalling the outing of an NFL star may, in itself, be a little late to the game. But boy is it a fun read.
Handsome Brenton Freeman, a “6-foot 4, 245 pound African American with a medium chocolate complexion” is a celebrated wide receiver for the Los Angeles Buccaneers. To no one’s knowledge (except his loyal and loving sister Erica) he’s been in a four year relationship with Jason Hallohan, a model-handsome caterer, whose been desperately trying to convince the closeted footballer to come out. And this is the point of contention for these live-in lovers; Brenton passes Jason off as his cousin and Jason feels like simply a ghost in his man’s life.
But there is so much more that haunts Brenton, so many gut-wrenching questions. Is he really afraid being open would hurt his career? Or is his career just an excuse for his real fear of being rejected and losing popularity? And what about his first love, Blake, back in college? Did his forcing Blake into the closet with him take a tragic toll? Did Brenton’s fear of being discovered and abandoning Blake result in Blake’s suicide? And did he not learn from his past mistakes?
He would soon find out a few answers as a web of jealousy, lies, cover-ups, and deceptions unravel.
Kyle Michaelson, an affable good old white boy from Texas, is Brenton’s best friend and teammate. The two of them are like brothers. But unbeknownst to Kyle, his wife Caroline, a nuveau Hollywood House Wife via Trailer Park Trashville, secretly plots with her dufus brother Davis to bring down the superstar so that her husband can ascend to the superstar status and the bigger money she longs for.
Carol had always thought the relationship between Brenton and his ‘cousin’ Jason was suspect—he was always at all of Brenton’s games, she had on more than a few occasions, caught the longing glances they shared, and due diligence on the internet revealed Brenton’s parents were both an only child.
Her plot to expose Brenton’s secret works almost too well, and though it has its desired affects, modern sensibilities prevail, almost dragging a kicking and screaming Brenton into a new sense of consciousness.
And although Brenton eventually comes into his own, he’s clocking zero on the relationship board. The suicide of Blake, the tumultuousness of his relationship with Jason, a cursory mention of a new relationship at the end of the book, that seems as insignificant as its mention, make our poor, lovable, smart-dumb jock a real romantic Neanderthal. Sometimes I wanted to just grab him and shake the shit out of him. Sometimes I just wanted to hug him. But I must say, I did care for the big lug, and he does finally see the light. Some of his final speeches are quite moving.
Michael Donovan writes with a fast pace, and never bores, and though some of his characters can be a tad bit cartoonish, it’s forgivable, for they colorize with great melodrama the very serious subject of coming to terms with loving yourself. This is a great book for any gay person afraid of his or her own truth, and for that alone, the author does a great service. (less)
Author Rashid Darden betters himself considerably with Covenant, the sequel to his debut novel Lazarus. In a story that is sweet and sexy, poignant an...moreAuthor Rashid Darden betters himself considerably with Covenant, the sequel to his debut novel Lazarus. In a story that is sweet and sexy, poignant and though-provoking, funny and sad, the author skillfully continues the journey of our young and affable now-out-of-the-closet hero and narrator Adrian Collins as he traverses college life, fraternal brotherhood, family reconciliations, the pain of lost love and the joy of new love.
Adrian, now a sophomore and still healing from his break up with Savion, the handsome Latino poet we met in Lazarus, seems to be handling his business on campus well. He befriends other gay and lesbian schoolmates with dignity, and his frat brothers, for the most part, accept him and his sexuality, although he suffers an on-campus assault by a vicious homophobe, from which a very special friend rescues him.
His on-campus and fraternity challenges are rather lightweight this time around, including a cursory dissertation on the cruelty of hazing. But Adrian’s efforts to straighten out his relationship with a mother who seems to value his scholastic achievements over the bond most sons share with their mom, and a father who attempts to re-enter his life after a twelve-year absence, gives this tight short novel much heft.
However, the book’s great emotional daring-do is Adrian’s relationship with campus basketball star Isaiah, a gorgeous hunk Adrian’s had a crush on since his freshman year. Their friendship, a lesson in brotherhood, is simply beautiful. As we watch their relationship evolve into something much more, something both secretly desire, we admire how they both respect a covenant of restraint I suspect precious few of us are capable of maintaining.
This time around not much really happens plot-wise, and that’s perfectly okay. Most of the action is internal, lifting the story emotionally, even jerking tears with lovely human insights and personal discoveries.
Even the sex scenes are romantic and touching, although they still manage to engender considerable steam, especially a tryst that ends up in a shower.
That the author has chosen to let Adrian tell his tale nonlinearly is another plus. Adrian is a good guy facing a life whose complications any reader can empathize with. As we seldom see the segments of our life stories in chronological order, Adrian too shares with us in the order dictated not by time and place, but by the emotional highs and lows of his heart, constantly trying to make some sense of young manhood and the wonderful frustrating mumble jumble that colors the coming of age process and love’s baffling conundrums.
Covenant is a very sweet ride, simply and touchingly told, and although nitpicker me would have liked a slightly stronger ending, Mr. Darden reminded me of something I’ve always believed, and that is that love truly does conquer all.
There is story telling and there is compelling story telling. And while author Rashid Darden, in his debut novel, invites and educates us into the cla...moreThere is story telling and there is compelling story telling. And while author Rashid Darden, in his debut novel, invites and educates us into the clandestine world of fraternity pledging on the university campus, the great conflict that is the bedrock of great literature—romantic love versus service duty—is rather tepidly treated here.
It is as if Mr. Darden is more interested in educating us into every aspect of the college fraternity pledging cycle at the expense of the human drama of lover’s fighting for their love against all odds.
Don’t get me wrong. I am actually quite fond of this book, rich in the details of the great sacrifices one must make if life-long brotherhood is to be obtained. I only wish that the fat for which I had been charged was trimmed a bit, and the story seasoned more for my carnivorous taste, meaty conflicts keeping the reader up at night, biting nails over the dilemma our young pledge Adrian Collins must endure as he is torn between his great romantic love and his love for the fraternal institution, his frat brothers, and his fellow pledges.
The ripe-with-possibilities plot is actually quite good, a sort of “An Officer and a Gentlemen” set on a college campus instead of a Marine training base. Our narrator, Adrian Collins is handsome, brilliant and devoted to serving others, involving himself in community work and total dedication as Vice President of the NAACP on the campus of fictitious Potomac University somewhere in the southeast, where he is a student. He is also gay and closeted to most everyone but his good friend Nina. But when Savion Cortez, a handsome Latino senior and gifted poet returns to campus and performs, he catches Adrian’s eye and Adrian his. The connection and consummation is almost immediate and we know that this is a relationship that will be very special, and their deep and growing affection for each other helps them decide to come out of the closet together, declaring their love for the entire world to see.
But soon after this handsome couple decides to take this courageous step Adrian is recruited by the Beta Chi Phi Fraternity, which puts the coming-out plans on hold. Savion, more the Bohemian artist with a distinct aversion for the stringencies of the fraternity structure, knows, in spite of Adrian’s assurances, that the pledging ritual—hazing, forced separation, inherent homophobia—would be difficult for both of them. But because it is something that the man he loves wants so badly, he reluctantly goes along with it.
And indeed the pledging process does take its toll, threatening to tear our two heroes apart at every turn.
But as structured here, what happens to Adrian and Savion gets the short end of the stick, while too many details about the pledging process overwhelm the story and bogs it down, often robbing it of its potential poignancy and pacing.
Dialogue heavy, many speeches about what it means to be in the fraternity are perhaps very accurate, but often their clinical renderings make huge chunks read like textbook primers. Even our narrator speaks in an unadorned manner that often tells the story by the numbers instead of through passion. Judicious editing and a slightly more poetic narrator would have made this tome float a lot more buoyantly.
Nevertheless, Mr. Darden knows his stuff, and for all the frat guys out there, the detailed accuracy of the process will perhaps engender indelible memories of an once-in-a-lifetime experience.