Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: Visible Lives

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Kensington Books
Pages: 342

Visible Lives was published to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of E. Lynn Harris, one of gay fiction’s best-loved authors. This is a collection of three novellas from African-American gay fiction writers who had some association with Harris. Each story begins with a heartfelt introduction outlining how the author knew Harris and the effect Harris had on their work.

The First story, The Intern by Terrance Dean, tells the tale of Chase, a television executive who has dated a string of losers until a summer intern working in his office comes on to him. The intern is sexy, caring, passionate and hung – everything Chase needs. The problem? The intern is much younger. This is basically a story about how Chase got his groove back.
This turned out to be a moderately entertaining story. I found the characters to be somewhat one dimensional and the plot overly predictable. There were, however, several clever scenes and the dialog was often funny. It’s not a story I would rank high on my list, but it was certainly an enjoyable read.

Story number two, Is It Still Jood to Ya? by James Earl Hardy, tells of how Raheim tries to lure his ex-lover back in order to save their family, at a time when his ex-lover is getting ready to fly off and spend time with another man. Fate steps in and grounds all flights, giving Raheim the opportunity he needs.
I had significant issues with this story. Cardboard characters, page after page of useless dialog that failed to move the story forward, and ending with forty pages of questions and answers in an interview format that was so utterly boring that I couldn’t finish it. This story, in my opinion, is poorly written and tedious. To top it off, every time the author used the word “good” (which was often) he replaced it with “jood”, which pulled me out of the story every time. It became extremely annoying. I can’t recommend this story.

The third and last story, House of John by Stanley Bennett Clay, turned out to be my favorite of the three. A middle-aged man, Jesse, is devastated when he finds that his long-term lover is cheating on him. To retaliate he joins a group of other gay men on a sex vacation in the Dominican Republic that promises a wealth of sexual opportunities with the local hustlers. Although he craves uncomplicated sex with sexy young studs, he finds that he has issues exploiting the locals. But then he meets a local guy who is not only drop-dead-gorgeous, but is also NOT a hustler. The two begin a very sweet romance. But where will it lead?
This story is unique, intelligent and fun. The characters seem real and have depth, and the situations are interesting, sometimes even gripping. It is very well written and the pace moves along at a good clip. This one story made the trilogy worth reading. I can highly recommend it.

I have never read any of E. Lynn Harris’s works, so I’m no judge of how closely these stories come to his style or quality of writing. All three had a heavy erotic content, which seldom detracted from the storyline. And all three had two other things in common, they centered around an African-American man looking for a relationship, and all three managed to work Harris’s name into the storyline. For the most part, the way each one weaved Harris into the story seemed awkward, and somewhat cheesy. Overall, two of the three stories are certainly worth a look. I do recommend this book.

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