On the copyright page of Hank Sanders's Death of a Fat Man, the book is characterized as fictional, mystery, inspirational, sell-help, and obesity. Obesity? These are the first clues that Sanders's novel is not going to be anywhere near being the garden-variety type.
This uniqueness is given further evidence when the drama unfolds around layers of fat. Obesity and the pressing need to lose weight drive this novel.
The protagonist, John Peter James, bears all the telltale signs of the author, and even calling his hometown Amles, or Selma spelled backwards, doesn't throw the reader off the scent. Composed in enticing, epistolary vignettes to his granddaughter, Sanders's sinister villain is his main character's weight problem. When an imagined Crazy Man tells Mr. James that "the fat man is going to die," he takes this as a serious warning; and for the next nearly 400 pages there are a number of close encounters that threaten his life.
It seemed improbable that Sanders, an Alabama state senator and first-time novelist, could sustain such an unconventional story. But he does, and it's mostly because he's a very good writer, with a wicked sense of humor, who is well versed in the Bible.
Although the series of road hazards and near misses are a bit redundant, and the self-deprecations somewhat overdone, Sanders finds ways to keep you engrossed right to the end. All of the traits cited at the start of the review are substantiated by the time the tale is told, and it is indeed an inspirational, fictional, self-help, obesity book. As for the mystery, that's left for you to unravel.
--Reviewed by Herb Boyd Herb Boyd is the other of Pound for Pound: Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson (Amistad/HarperCollins, February 2005).
* Kingston; by Starlight by Christopher John Farley Three Rivers Press, June 2005 $13.95, ISBN 1-400-08245-5
A pirate's tale with a latter-day twist, this work of historical fiction documents and revives the life of 18th-century legend Anne Bonny, the Caribbean's first female pirate.
Oddly enough, though touted throughout the Caribbean, Anne Bonny was born and reared in Ireland. In telling her story, she heartily describes the tragic events that turned her to a life of piracy in the guise of a man. It began with her father's abandonment, which leads her, alongside her mother, to the Americas in a search of him.
Yet, when Bonny reaches her father's estate in Charles Town, South Carolina, she endures the whispers of acute southerners and questions about her heritage because of her sun-kissed skin tone. Now an outcast in the color-struck states, Bonny sets out for the infamous Bahamian city, of New Providence, a haven to outsiders, where she meets pirate captain Calico Jack Rackam and a host of characters, including the very feisty Read, who has a closely guarded secret of his own. At sea she finds a measure of acceptance and, later, love.
In time, the crew's misadventures will end at a trial brought by a vindictive governor in Jamaica--the same, famed trial of 1720 that received international attention.
Farley manages to conjure up the spirit of Anne Bonny and her times in this action-packed period piece, and his prose rings with the timbre of long-ago authors.
A senior editor at Time magazine, Farley is the author of Aaliyah: More Than a Woman (MTV Books, December 2001), Introducing Halle Berry (Pocket, November 2002) and My Favorite War (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 1996).
--Reviewed by Regina Cash-Clark Regina Cash-Clark is an assistant professor of journalism at Ramapo College of New Jersey and a freelance writer/editor.
* The Magic Keys by Albert Murray Pantheon Books, May 2005 $24, ISBN 0-375-42353-2
One of the most challenging things about an Albert Murray book is finding the frequency he's cooking on, understanding his language and metaphors, and hoping the groove you settle on doesn't lead you to a rut.
The Magic Keys operates on several complex levels, and perhaps the easiest to apprehend is the one infused with choice literary elements or seductive musical indicators. In a book that resonates somewhere between a thinly disguised memoir and a novel filled with Alabama filigree and personalities, Murray's Scooter takes us on another one of his tall tales that is most accessible in his discussions with Taft Edison.
Those readers familiar with Murray's work (Train Whistle Guitar, Vintage, 1989; The Spyglass Tree, Pantheon, 1991; and The Seven League Boots, Vintage, 1996 among others)--and his relationship with the late author Ralph Ellison will quickly grasp that Edison is Ellison, and the crux of their extended conversation focuses on the making of Invisible Man. When Murray notes the addresses, and places where Ellison lived and worked when he was writing the novel, no further allusions are necessary. But are we to infer from these signposts that everything that follows is factual?
There is a temptation to skip ahead looking for those passages, those scenes where all-ears Scooter is getting the latest developments on Edison's creation of a classic.
Much of the rest of the book--except when Bossman (Count Basie?) is the subject--is Scooter giving us the scoop on his academic ventures or his ruminations on the South.
The Magic Keys is an elegiac sort of tale with little or no tension, a bevy of baffling but interesting folk figures, and sometimes puzzling punctuation--only a couple of question marks, no quotation marks, so there were times you weren't sure who was speaking. Murray brings a heavy literary serving. But after you get used to his style, its like cracking open a coconut and savoring the juice.
G-Spot: An Urban Doric Tale by Noire Strivers Row/Ballantine Books, January 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-47721-9
Juicy Monique Stanfield is a sexy 19-year-old who is dating the biggest and most feared hustler in Harlem, Granite McKay, a.k.a G. After two years of their relationship, Juicy decides that what G has to offer is insufficient, and she concocts a plan to steal his money and escape, but this becomes a challenge.
G-Spot is a gritty, urban erotic tale that will get your adrenaline pumping. Noire does an outstanding job creating a colorful and vivid story. The characters are well drawn, and the reader will be captivated from the first page to the last, as G-Spot moves at 100 mph in a 65 mph speed zone.
--Reviewed by Nancey Flowers Nancey Flowers is the author of Shattered Vessels (Flowers in Bloom Publishing, December 2002).
In Search of Pretty Young Black Men by Stanley Bennett Clay Atria Books, January 2005 $15.95, ISBN 0-743-49715-5
Clay sets his thin but poetically rendered plot against the skyline of L.A.'s Baldwin Hills, and one senses his is a dead-on evocation of place. He captures secular aspects of this community's tenor and tone in dialogue--in barside confessionals, in trash talk at high-class bid whist tables, and, particularly, in sensual dreamscapes and raw sex talk.
The title does not mislead: a good percentage of this novel's scant 167 pages are devoted to lusty foraging for "pretty, young black men." Other characters only seem freshly ripped from today's headlines since Clay initially self-published this book back in 2001. Every, character has an upscale lifestyle and a secret, including Dorian, the prettiest of Clay's men and the one whose preternatural abilities form the epicenter of this book's swirl of seductions.
Although the connections between secret holders may be a tad too "convenient" for true mystery lovers, the author has delicious, didactic fun subtracting the degrees of separation between them. Readers with a predilection for works by Toni Morrison and other heavyweights may not fawn publicly over In Search of Pretty Young Black Men. But only one question matters to those who eye literary success in shades of green: Does validation by the high literati matter to the legions in search of pretty young "quick-reads" that engage and titillate? The answer, which should please Clay and his publisher mightily, is--"not one whiff"
--Reviewed by D'Nese L. Alexander Moore D'Nese L. Alexander Moore is a lawyer, educator and writer in East Tennessee.
Grown Folks Business by Victoria Christopher Murray Simon & Schuster, June 2005 $14, ISBN 0-7432-7097-5
Sheridan Heart has beaten the odds. She is proof of the existence of white picket fences and Prince Charming. Her husband, Quentin, has gone beyond the call of duty to ensure her fairy tale lifestyle, ignoring his lifelong struggle with homosexuality.
This is further complicated with the relations of "well-meaning folk" who offer advice--and at times harsh judgement. While there seems to be no one real answer, Sheridan must rediscover her faith to persevere, and protect the emotional well-being of her two innocent children.
Murray delves deep into the devastation that ensues when one is not honest with one's self. This book challenges your "ideas" of real faith and true forgiveness.
Grown Folks Business is a multilayered fictional account of our oftentimes obscured view of sin as it relates to homosexuality in the church. Murray, has applied great care and dignity to a situation that has no definitive formula for fixing, but certainly one solution--the power of God.
--Reviewed by Nicole Davis Nicole Davis is manager of Books for Thought in Tampa, Florida.
Can't get Enough by Connie Briseoe Doubleday, April 2005 $19.95, ISBN 0-385-50162-5
Fresh off the heels of P.G. County (Doubleday, September 2002), Briscoe, a Maryland resident, brings her fifth work to light in Can't Get Enough. For those pining to see what happens next in the fictitious affluent suburb of Silver Lake, now is the time. Jolone, Pearl, Patrick, Barbara, Bradford, Lee and Juliette make a return as the second opera act begins. This time, Kenyatta doesn't make it but an interesting twist does. The mysterious new homeowner building the mini-mansion that dwarfs the Bentley's home across the street will bring some interesting things to light.
As Briscoe continues with a flurry of egos, name brands, fears, loves and losses, Can't Get Enough explores the stresses of divorce, half siblings and girlfriends as well as new friends, new beginnings, old hates and evil schemes.
In short, Can't Get Enough examines relationships. Somebody cheats. Somebody stays. Somebody sacrifices. Somebody is selfish. Somebody is selfless. Somebody is hurt. Somebody hurts someone. Overall, Briscoe entertains with her creation of well- developed characters. Readers will love to love and love to hate. Not trying to tell you all the goodies that happen in this book, but even if you haven't read her last book, you will enjoy what happens in Can't Get Enough. The story is well written, and Briscoe continues to develop the human nature of her characters.
--Reviewed by Brook Stephenson Brook Stephenson is a freelance editor, journalist and full-time bookseller in Brooklyn, New York.
Named Works: Death of a Fat Man (Book) Book reviews
"Story lines for the adventurous mind: literary fiction offerings ponder obesity, piracy and a Ralph Ellison tale." Black Issues Book Review July-Aug. 2005: 70+. General OneFile. Web. 27 Nov. 2009.
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