Recent Reads: Feb. 2019
Aaaaaand, we’re back! This month, I only read books written by black authors, which, in turn, makes this review a great way to close out Black History Month! As of today, I’m 15 books through my 50 book goal (30% complete!) and already have a few reads lined up for March. I’m starting An Unkindness of Ghosts today (2/28) & I also have Wild Seed, The Killing Moon, and Unaccustomed Earth (which I’m co-reading with Ify starting 3/4!) on my nightstand. I’d love to know what you plan to read in March, so make sure to leave a comment below!
Tar Baby by Toni Morrison | 4.5/5
Initially, I gave Tar Baby 5/5 stars, but upon deeper reflection, I don’t think it quite hit the mark, primarily due to its clunky ending. In Tar Baby, we’re transported to Isle des Chevalier, a Caribbean island supposedly inhabited by mystical spirits & blind wild horsemen. Valerian Street and his wife, Margaret, have moved to the island as a sort of retirement, and they are joined by their live-in servants, Sydney and Ondine Childs, as well as the Childs’ niece, Jadine. Jadine, who attended the most elite (and predominately-white) private schools (paid for by Valerian), is disconnected from black culture and her racial/class identity — she visits Isle des Chevalier as a temporary respite from her successful modeling career. Thus when Son — a man with a mysterious background who relishes in his black identity — shows up on the island & the Street’s home, everyone’s world is disrupted, especially Jadine’s.
Morrison continues to reign as the master of language; the novel seamlessly transports its readers to Isle des Chevalier and one feels as though they are sitting in the Street’s home, at their dining room table, directly witnessing the conversations of Valerian, Sydney & Odine or Jadine. In this novel, Morrison especially excels in crafting dialogue between her characters; she depicts tension-filled relationships with eloquence and pushes the reader to directly confront the complexities of each character’s relationships with race, gender, class and belonging. I read this book first as a teenager, but I’m grateful to have read it again as an adult — Tar Baby is brimming with motifs, symbolism, and metaphor, which made me love it in a new deep & more significant way.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James | 4/5
Where do I start? Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a tale unlike anything I’ve ever read before, which was, ostensibly, Marlon James’ exact intention. Before beginning BLRW, I attended James’ talk at The Carter Center, during which he discussed his writing process, his attempt to move away from the Western understanding of plot/linear narrative, and the complexities of finding “truth” within a story. James told the audience that we’re not meant to always “get it” when it comes to BLRW and — just as African folklore, which informed James’ writing, incorporates “narrative dirty tricks” — Black Leopard, Red Wolf purposefully toys with our understanding of truth and validity. The novel is meant to be a tough read — James spoke about this in depth — with the hope that, amongst its many seemingly irrelevant twists and turns, readers eventually learn to remove their expectations of what plot “should” look like & take the story as it comes — winding tangents, unclear motives, lack of chronology, and all. As Tracker says at one point: “It is not even that I care so much as it is we are in so deep. Let us finish it.”
This is yet another read where, after taking the month to digest it, I’ve changed my rating — this time for the better. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a complex tale with characters unlike any I’ve ever experienced. The novel begins with the narrator, Tracker, under interrogation; he’s asked to explain what led to the demise of “the boy” — a child with a lineage that could have changed the future of the kingdom. As the book moves forward, we learn that Tracker “has a nose” — he is hired far & wide to hunt down missing people, whether they be spouses, runaway lovers or enemies. When he is asked to find the boy, he acquiesces, though the story as to why the boy must be found is muddled and ever-changing. Along with a motley crew, Tracker sets out on the quest, and though “what happens” is not particularly forthcoming, the novel leaves its readers hopelessly in love with its characters, world & story.
Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones | 3.5/5 Stars
Before reading Lost in the City, I hadn’t read anything by Edward P. Jones, though — according to GoodReads — his work is fairly well-known. Hoping to be floored by a “new” author, I requested a copy of his most acclaimed collection from the library. Lost in the City is a collection of short-stories, all taking place in Washington D.C.’s historically black neighborhoods. The majority of the stories center the voices of women and often touch on faith, domestic abuse, drugs and the rhythm of the city itself. My favorite stories in the collection were “The Store,” “Young Lions,” “Lost in the City” and “His Mother’s House.” While I enjoyed the collection, I felt as though most, if not all, of the stories had disappointingly weak endings that made me wish there was more.
Known to Evil & When the Thrill is Gone by Walter Mosley | 3/5
As mentioned in last month’s review, after reading The Long Fall, I decided to stick with the Leonid McGill series & requested the next two books from my library — Known to Evil and When the Thrill is Gone. Both received the same average rating (3 stars), so I’ve combined their reviews. In Known to Evil, we join Leonid McGill again, and this time, his personal relationships are even more complex. His sons, Dimitri & Twill, are somehow involved with a Russian ex-prostitute, his marriage remains cold/platonic, his girlfriend has a new boyfriend & Alfonse Rinaldo, the gangster king of New York, needs his help finding & protecting a young woman who has disappeared. By book 3, When the Thrill is Gone, McGill has solved the previous mystery but not many of his relationship problems — his best friend & mentor is sick/on the verge of death, his wife takes a young lover, and his girlfriend wants to “talk.” Simultaneously, McGill must solve a new mystery involving a millionaire’s doppelgänger who fears for her life.
If these books sound melodramatic, it’s because they are — 100%. The Leonid McGill series isn’t for those who are looking for a deep & intellectually stimulating read; rather, these books are perfect the reader who just wants to jump into a crazy plot & enjoys action, mystery and drama. Personally, the McGill series keeps me interested, but on a surface level. I’m not sure that I necessarily consider Mosley a great writer — at moments, his writing can be introspective & interesting, but for the most part, everything is plot-driven & histrionic. Don’t get me wrong — I couldn’t stop reading! — clearly there’s something addictive about this series, but it’s kind of like reading a cheesy romance novel. Into it? Yes! Will it ever make the favorites list? Probably not.
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley | 3.5/5
Oh, this is awkward…hi. Back with yet another Leonid McGill book after giving the last two 3 stars? Guilty as charged. In this book — the fourth in the series — though it seems impossible, the plot gets even more complicated. This time, McGill attempts to make amends for his past wrongdoings by getting a woman he framed, Zella Grisham, out of jail. As the case unfolds, more and more strange happenings surrounding Zella’s case are revealed, making for an intriguing (and honestly, kind of confusing) plot. On the personal side of things, Leonid McGill learns more about his father’s history, Twill works his first case as an assistant-P.I., and there’s an assassination attempt on McGill’s life. Did I mention that this series is a bit melodramatic?
By book 4, despite being deeply invested in the series, I was starting to roll my eyes at Mosley’s writing techniques. The “deep” musings of McGill, as he reflects on his Communist father & upbringing? Kind of annoying. Mosley re-explaining established plot points to his reader? His insistence on comparing everyone’s race/skin tone to food? The female characters’ one-dimensional personalities? That line where Leonid McGill compares success to a chili cheese dog? (I wish I were kidding). Yeah…pulling my hair out a bit. Yet I gave this book a 3.5, rather than 3, simply because McGill seems to grow as a character in this novel and the ending — a cliffhanger of course — had me on the edge of my seat.
Despite my complaints, did I still request the fifth (and last) book from the library? You bet your ass I did. ;-)
What are you reading? What should I read next? Keep up with me on GoodReads! xx
I’ve linked to Amazon for convenience, but highly recommend supporting your local library and/or independent bookstore if you can!