About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Old Favorites, Redux

OK, a bit backlogged again, so these next few reviews will be quick. A few weeks ago, I had a kinda sucky day. Nothing disastrous, loyal readers; just the sort of low-grade, flat tire and cat barf nuisances that make you think you're walking around under a black cloud. It also inspired 2 cravings in me: the desire to just curl up in the safety of my living room with a good book until the @#$%^ day was over, and the desire not to further tax my feeble, grouchified brain with something I might actually have to focus on. The first thing I saw on my bookshelf that fit the bill was Bebe Moore Campbell's Brothers and Sisters (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994) (#66), and so, well, here we are.

Set in Los Angeles just a few months after the early 1990s riots, Brothers and Sisters explores some complicated questions about the conflicts between our racial, gender, and class loyalties. It's also a darned good story. The protagonist, Esther Jackson, is a 30-something African American transplant from the South Side of Chicago who's clearly on her way up. She's got an MBA under her belt, has a successful career as a bank operations manager, and a nice home in a neighborhood she loves. Now, if only she could get into the more lucrative and prestigious lending side of the bank ... well, that, and find a man who won't drag her down. As she explains to her best friend Vanessa:
"'What's wrong with wanting to be with someone who has goals and aspirations that are similar to mine? Listen, I've dated Mr. Blue Collar. I've dated Mr. Starving Actor. I've even dated Mr. Unemployed. I'm sorry, the Jackson University for the Remedial Training of Brothers with Potential is closed. No more mismatches. This isn't about [unfaithful ex-boyfriend and doctor] Mitchell Harris. It's about me knowing what I want.'"
Over the course of the novel, two cases come up that call Esther's exacting standards into question. One is Humphrey Boone, a rising star in the lending world who's hired at Angel City in its efforts to promote diversity. Successful, involved in the black community, and easy on the eyes to boot, he just might be what Esther's been looking for. The only trouble is, he's partial to vanilla, and more interested in her white co-worker, Mallory (who doesn't return the favor). The second is Tyrone, who's hunky, ambitious, crazy about Esther to boot ... and a UPS driver. Much as she enjoys their time together, she insists that Tyrone's just something to do for now, not realizing until much later that "the man who was just 'something to do' might have his own agenda."

The above might make it sound like this is primarily a romance novel, but it's not. It's also the story of the wary friendships that form across racial lines. Esther and Mallory begin by celebrating the transfer of a sexist co-worker, but their bond is cemented when they run into Mallory's married lover having a wonderful time on a date with his wife, and Esther keeps Mallory from making a public scene. Later, when the arrogant but attractive Mitchell arrives on Esther's doorstep, and she sleeps with him in a moment of weakness, she calls Mallory instead of Vanessa, figuring she'll be more sympathetic ... and a tentative friendship develops. At the same time, what begins as a self-serving outreach from bank president Preston Sinclair toward Humphrey Boone becomes a genuine fondness, even withstanding the turmoil Preston's world is thrown into when his teenaged son is gravely injured. Esther takes a chance on hiring LaKeesha, a hard-working but unpolished single mom who's determined to get off welfare, for a teller's position, taking the extra time to mentor her even at the risk of sidelining her own career. Long-time teller Hector doesn't know how to take this. On one hand, he likes LaKeesha and can see that she's a hard worker; on the other, if blood is thicker than water, and it's only reasonable for Esther to help LaKeesha ... should he stand up for LaKeesha when the need arises, or seize the chance to bring his fiancee on board in her place? And then there are Esther's new neighbors, fresh off the boat from West Virginia: Harold, Carol, and their wild-haired daughter Sara. While they seem nice enough, and someone sure has to explain Sara's hair to Carol, PDQ, Esther just can't get past the irritation of seeing yet another black man with a white woman and make herself do the right thing.

OK, so much for a short review -- and I still have about 5 more to go (some time soon, anyway). A good read if you want to be entertained, but still think a little at the same time.

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