One of this season's buzz books, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (Riverhead), the debut story collection from Danielle Evans, proves that innovative short fiction is not dead. Evans, who teaches literature at American University in Washington, D.C., has an uncanny ability to take the reader right into the struggles and emotional moments that her characters are experiencing. Issues of race (Evans is biracial), sexuality, and youth, wrestle with cultural and generational cues like a thread running through the book's eight enjoyable stories.
"Virgins," the story that leads this collection, first garnered attention when it was published in the Paris Review (the author was twenty-three at the time). The story's look at girls journeying toward womanhood, with all the requisite doubt and sexual apprehension, is pitch-perfect. Children are able to see beyond the facades of the adults around them -- as a young, mixed-race girl does with her white grandmother in "Snakes," or a grown daughter with her father in "Jellyfish"-- to gain greater insight into the adult's issues, and, in turn, their own.
While reading Evans' debut, I was reminded of authors Asali Solomon (Get Down) and ZZ Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere), other young women of color sharing interesting stories from the urban diaspora that can evoke laughter and serious reflection in the same breath.
Anticipation has definitely been high for Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Evans has garnered impressive mainstream press coverage including The New York Times, People, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Entertainment Weekly -- rare for a young black author, especially with a debut story collection. This is promising news. My hope is that good work from authors of color will continue to break through, and that the conservative publishing industry will labor to bring their work to a wide audience. For this strong debut, the attention is well deserved.
Does every woman need a gay best friend? Author Terrance Dean's answer is a resounding yes, as he makes several cases to support this scenario in his new book Straight From Your Gay Best Friend (Agate/Bolden). The author of the down-low, coming-of-age memoir Hiding In Hip Hop hits us this time with an advice tome, one designed to "give it to [women] straight about life, clothes, sex, and relationships," according to the press materials.
Maybe a better question would be, is every gay man qualified to give this type of advice? While anyone can offer opinions, I don't know that one's sexuality is a qualifier to offer advice on love, life, and relationships.
I do, however, appreciate most of Dean's simple, down-to-earth nuggets of wisdom, often delivered with a bit of spirituality (Bible verses are quoted throughout). In nineteen short chapters, Straight From Your Gay Best Friend lays out a path for women to follow in pursuit of their dreams. In no-nonsense chapters like "Every Man Is Not Relationship Material: Get Up and Move On!" and "Love Yourself: If You Don't, Who Will?", his "straight" talk comes through strongest.
He advises against telling everyone your business, revealing that those assumed to have your best interests at heart (so-called friends and sometimes family) don't always want to see you succeed. Also emphasized here is the need to take time for self, away from the regular routine of work, partner and/or children. Dean touches on the importance of choosing the "right" man, urging readers to look for clues indicating the potential for a real romantic partnership.
The chapter "Listen: It Will Save You a World of Headaches," rang particularly true with me. "When people show you who they are, believe them," he counsels. "When people tell you who they are, listen." It is this type of straight-ahead, common sense advice that reflects the book's best moments.
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