Out of breath

I HATE TO WRITE a negative book review.

The reviews I prefer to write are about books that make a lasting impression, that stand out. Books that deserve a wider audience.

After all, why knock someone who's tried? It's only when it's clear the author has a total lack of respect for his reader (James Earl Hardy) or has a racist agenda (James Earl Hardy) do I feel the need to speak out. In other words, if I don't have anything good to say, I'd rather not say anything at all. Unless I really, really have to.

When I started reading Blair R. Poole's Breathe, I had high hopes. It seemed like a sweet coming of age story. Yes, our protagonist, "quintessential hip-hop teenager", Nafiq, is a cliché, albeit a potentially intriguing and likeable enough cliché. There's the promise of a story: Nafiq is the perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect athlete et cetera. When will the pressure make him snap?

Fortunately, in the world of Breathe, everyone is flawlessly beautiful, sexy, popular and sought after - but only when they're African-American or, at a stretch, Latino. Breathe, you see, is an imitation of the same blaxploitation crap that Poole's apparent inspiration James Earl Hardy peddles: a dreary world of conservative, successful, beautiful black folk who all go to church, preach the value of family, and in the meantime, get up to all sorts of soap opera nastiness on the down low; lying, cheating and sexing everyone and anyone who's flawlessly beautiful, sexy, successful, and, of course, African-American. And deriding white folk at every opportunity is a must, because the wholesale denigration of Caucasians is a badge of honour.

Somewhere along the line in Breathe, the author gets bored with Nafiq's story and decides to cut to Nafiq's sister and her down low fiancée. Her story is an even longer string of clichés, ripped straight from an E. Lynn Harris novel, and even more clumsily told. There's no attempt at insight, no depth. Every negative emotion is depicted along the lines of "he shook his head sadly".

Well, a puppy might droop its head sadly if you tell it off, but if a teenager is shunned by his parents, and kicked out of the parental home, we'd expect a little more in the way of insight. Maybe the author could invest some of the proceeds from the sales of the book in a good thesaurus.

At the end of Breathe I felt truly robbed of my time. I could have been reading something more worthwhile - like a Mills & Boon romance, which would at least have had more depth, probably have made better use of the English language, and not have left such a nasty taste in the mouth. And that's really saying something.

One lesson I did take away from Breathe, however, was a useful counter-argument to the lie that white people are responsible for perpetuating the thug stereotype. Blair R. Poole and his ilk are educated, and - at the least - middle-class African-Americans, who are clearly in the thrall of thug DL culture. Their sole intended audience is the African-American community. Lightweight fluff like Breathe is pure blaxploitation, by black Americans, for upwards of middle-class black Americans, and strictly off limits to whites.

That's fine by me - Mister Poole, you're welcome to keep your hypocrisy, your lies, your church, and your grim stereotypes. It's all yours - I hope you and your flawlessly beautiful, sexy, popular and sought after African-American brothas have a great time with it all.


Wonder Man said...

sounds like a horrible book

and I'm curious to hear about your views of james earl hardy

ka-os said...

Don't be curious Wonder Man, you can read exactly what I think of James Earl Hardy here:


Sanya in España said...

"I could have been reading something more worthwhile, like a Mills & Boon romance - which at least would have had more depth and a better use on language (and not left such a nasty taste in the mouth)."

Any book with those words in its review really must be avoided.

RE: The thug DL thing. I agree that it is an entirely, and almost completely exclusively black stereotype perpetuated by upper-middle-class wealthy blacks, who dream of doing a Pygmalion-style education of taking some rough thug and changing him into something more civilised, while still rogering him senseless in all sorts of barbaric positions. Trust me, I can't tell you how many times I've drifted into THAT fantasy. Either that one, or the whole perverse "keep them as a sex-pet" thing...

ka-os said...

"...and a better use on language."

Blimey. That should say better use OF language.

How ironic.

Sanya in España said...

Just tell people that the mad scientist Dr Typo struck, once again. Curse him!

Mr. Toddy English said...

Finally, someone who feels the same way that I do about E. Lynn Harris.
Honey, may he Rest In Peace but he is responsible for spawning this generation of hack "writers" he exploit the DL phenomenon for everything it is worth. The only book Harris wrote that was TRULY a great book was "The Invisible Life." After that he went down hill because he wanted to pander to his audience (which was, ironically, black women) by writing soap operas.
I never read any of these books because it is always the same bull shit all of the time. Not to mention that they are always HORRIBLY written. They are so easy to breeze through because they evoke no emotion except lust (hence why everyone is always rich and beautiful...and the "thugs" are always rough but never bonafide THUGS).
In general, sad to say, I avoid the African American section in book stores unless it is: James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, or some other literary giant.
Some of these writers are the equivalent of gay Tyler Perrys.
Oh wait...

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