by thea marie
A journal of items that I am reading/ have read: a personal commitment for 2008
Tonya Lewis Lee
Crystal McCrary Anthony
I came across this book on yet another of my Dollar Store runs.That venue is an excellent source of overlooked literary gems. The attractive book jacket first caught my attention. Then the blurb in the upper left corner attributed to E. Lynn Harris made me pick it up:
" A richly absorbing tale of Manhattan's upper crust packed with sex, lies, and backstabbing."
I skimmed the inside jacket covers and decided to read it mostly because of the setting, but also because of the posh. wealthy characters. As one of my own main characters occasionally spends time on the upper east side of New York with her affluent publisher godmother, I constantly mine novels, articles, and whatever for details to help realistically craft my stories. It wasn't until a friend pointed it out to me, that I realized one of the authors fo this novel is the wife of director, The Lees co-authored the delightful children's book, Please Baby, Baby Please. I then vaguely recalled having heard of Gotham Diaries back when it was released and all the hoopla that was made over it.
Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but when it's announced that a celebrity is coming out with a book, I always wonder how much play and promotion the book would get if the person were not already famous. As I read this novel, that question played in my mind.
The main character, Manny Marks, is a Manhattan real estate broker who happens to be black and gay. Successful in his career, Manny desires even more to join the social and economic ranks of his wealthy and prominent clientele. Manny is careful to wear all the right clothes, say all the right things, and be seen in all the right places with the right people. He cultivates his professional and personal relationships based upon who can help him achieve his goal of being a legitimate major player among Manhattan's African American Elite.
One of these friendships is with Tandy Brooks, an iconic fading beauty on the wealthy African American philanthropic scene and elite social circuit. Tandy is an established powerful player in Manhattan and on the east coast. Her husband’s recent death; howvever, is a major financial setback that Tandy desperately needs to keep secret if she is to maintain her social foothold. At the same time she has to seek out a new revenue stream to keep up appearances.
Manny’s other important friendship is with Lauren Thomas, the privileged and somewhat sheltered, but accomplished daughter of wealthy, east coast, black parents. Lauren was on a positive track, establishing an identity and career of her own before meeting, being seduced by, and becoming the young second wife of Ed Brooks. Ed, much older and eperienced than Lauren, is a self made man of power and prestige. His ego is huge as is his taste for art, music, travel, and other women. Tandy Brooks, as it happens, is a friend of Lauren’s mother and has known Lauren all of her life. Lauren has grown up respecting and admiring Tandy, although unbeknownst to Lauren, the feeling isn't mutual.
The plot centers around the doings of Manny, Tandy, and Lauren, their professional and personal relationships and the problems they incur in them. Their personal problems directly and indirectly lead the three of them into an illegal real estate transaction that along the way lays bare painful truths and reveals people for who and what they really are. In the end, it destroys trust, disintegrates friendships, and disrupts ways of life. The major themes running through this tale is one reaps what is sown, and what goes around will indeed eventually come back around.
In my opinion, this novel does what it’s supposed to do, tell a story, but I did not find it exceptional in terms of plot, characterization, or writing. I did enjoy the reading of how the upper echelon operates. I also got some laughs out of the descriptions of Manny’s disdain toward some of his nouveau riche, hip-hop clients, while at the same time he kisses their behinds and goes to all kinds of ridiclous lengths to make the sale. In one weird transaction involving the use of a psychic, Manny goes so far as to risk his own health and sanity for the sake of the deal. I also enjoyed reading of Manny's pathetic interactions with his conniving, social climbing lover, Trenton.
However, even with the good details and the funnier moments, I found the plot easily predictable. There were few, if any twists, except for one character’s transformation at the end of the story. But for me, even that was somewhat problematic.
The characters were flat or at most, two-dimensional. Manny is portrayed as greedy and self-serving. Tandy is snobbish and devious. Lauren starts out as too trusting and naïve. She was the only character that I was not able to accurately predict. But even in that, her actions as a result of her betrayal by her husband and her so-called friends didn’t quite ring true for me, although I have to say I did wind up rooting for her when she grew some balls and "wo-manned up" after all that was done to her. In my opinion, though, not enough prep work was done to build her character up to react in the way she does. She goes from wimpy and being in denial to suspicious, calculating, and retliatory without enough transition in between.
Even the minor characters in this novel are largely stereotypes. The other woman is a flat -out classless hoochie. The Feng Shui guy and the psychic are airy and flaky. The one white woman Manny has dealings with, who is going through a divorce and trying to unload a property through Manny, is portrayed as smart, but shallow and vindictive.
The writing itself was weakened by Lee and Anthony's telling rather than showing. A line of dialogue would be often be followed by qualification, as though they don’t quite trust that what they have the character saying will be enough for the reader to get the picture.
For example (Lauren answering her mother's suspicious questions about her errant husband):
”No, Mom, I don’t know exactly when Ed will be home. He isn’t Daddy. He doesn’t leave his printed itinerary by my bedside every week,” Lauren responded, dripping with sarcasm.
Another example (Manny catching Ed with his other woman):
”Ed,” Manny said uncomfortably. He had every intention of ignoring the young woman and returning to the apartment for his briefcase, but she shoved her hand at him, not going to be overlooked.
As I was reading, the almost constant pattern of dialogue tagging and describing became distracting, tedious even. I wanted to scream, “I get it!”, and wondered if the authors thought their readers too stupid to figure things out for themselves or too clueless to form images on their own. There was also an overuse of verbs of being (has, had, was, etc.) that made the writing seem more passive then active.
I took this book with me to read on the flight to and from Europe a couple of weeks ago. It made for an adequate time-filler, but as I stated before, it wasn’t an especially intriguing or well-written story. I definitely wonder how much media attention this book would have gotten if I or some other unknown had written it.