So, lately I’ve been trying to keep my head constantly buried in some kind of book. After finishing my last read, I thought it would be fun to review the novels that I’ve completed. Hopefully, the reviews can be helpful to readers considering their next read or at the very least, be entertaining.
With that explanation out of the way, I’d like to recommend that you pass on I Say A Little Prayer by E. Lynn Harris. Harris is one of those authors I’m not totally sold on. My first read was the book Just As I Am. While a great read, I found myself not liking the characters all that much especially the main hero who I thought was a lying, cheating dog (nothing to do with the fact that he was bisexual just to be clear). Feelings aside, I was riveted by the way Harris wove the narrative, using vivid descriptions and unexpected plot twists. Going into this read, I kind of expected the same sort of thing. Boy, was I disappointed. This book fails to be a success for three reasons: the plot is weak and disjointed, it is loaded with lots of heavy handed references, and the moral/political stances are so trite they make me ill.
Synopsis: Chauncey is a bisexual, black man who has sworn off women because of the games they play, but can’t seem to make a solid connection to another man outside of sex. He’s a successful owner of a greeting card company that doesn’t consider himself “a card carrying member of the gay community.” While not on the “DL” per se, he likes brothers who are unclockable. The dilemma for Chauncey is that he considers himself a church-going, God-fearing Christian trying desperately to reconcile his love of men with his faith — in other words, your classic black, gay drama.
Things start to get dicey when Chauncey, wanting to launch a singing career, is asked to sing at a revival where the guest speaker is a homophobic preacher running for Senate. The SGL (same-gender loving) members of the church stage a walk-out and Chauncey must choose to support or ignore them. To make matters more interesting, Chancey and the so-called preacher (Damien) were once teenage lovers. So, not only does Chauncey have a choice to go public about his orientation, he also has to reconcile unaddressed feelings for Damien.
Here’s where the first problem with this novel arises. You have a great, complicated main story, but Harris feels the need to distract your from it by adding frivolous backstory. Example: his female assistant is in an abusive relationship and Chauncey feels like he must intervene. Whoa! Left field there buddy. Yes, it makes for a good story, but it’s not relevate to your main storyline. These distractions (plural, because there were tons of them) really hurt this novel, because by the end, the main conflict was left under developed. In short, I felt pulled in too many directions and found it really hard to focus and enjoy the book as a cohesive unit.
Not only was I confused chasing the plot all around the page, I kept getting further distracted by Harris’s heavy nod to the Atlanta. Setting is very important to a story, but you have to know when your explanation is hurting rather than helping. Not only do I know Chauncey is in Atlanta, I know he works in Buckhead, he likes eating at Perimeter’s PF Changs (and sometimes The Cheescake Factory on P’tree), and that he has a flaming friend name Skylar who lives in Midtown. In my opinion, this is way too much information. Give the readers some credit. They’ve been to Atlanta. Hell, most of the readership lives here, so why do you need to tell me every detail, especially when it does nothing to advance the plot?
Lastly, please, if you’re going to use your novel to take a stand on something, do it in a way that’s creative, not sappy and obvious. There were many times I could practically hear Chauncey dragging out his soapbox and climbing on top to say things like “being gay and Christian is okay” or “gay committed relationships do happen.” In my opinion, don’t say it, show me. If you say being gay and Christian is okay, show me a main character who is an out, gay Christian who has made peace with that. If you say gay committed relationships do happen then show me a stable, gay, committed relationship. In then end, I didn’t find Chauncey to be believeable when he said these things, because Harris failed to give me any reason why I should belive him. This to me is a major flaw in character developement and a major blow to the narrative as whole especially when the main character is at issue.
In closing, E., you’ve written some marvelous books my friend, but I am sad to say that this is not one of them. Here’s hoping your next attempt is a whole lot better.