Racial inequality inspires a complex revenge plot in this sprawling first novel from Brooklyn law professor Troutt (stories: The Monkey Suit, 1998, etc.).
It’s set in 1990s Harlem, where three luckless black citizens drift into an “investment club” that offers a chance to “take back” opportunities denied them by a complacent white power structure. Late-30ish single mom Sidarra is frustrated by her second-class status at the “Board of Miseducation” where she suffers demotions and pay cuts as unqualified white coworkers rise to the top, and by a stalled relationship with her underachieving boyfriend Michael, a subway token booth vendor. Griff Coleman, an overworked public defender for (usually guilty) poor black clients, is fed up with the arrogance of a legal system that disrespects him, and by his wife Belinda, a successful investment banker who taunts him for not making more of himself. Yakoob Jones, meanwhile, a comedian moonlighting as a computer programmer, wants to stick it to whites-only power structures that scarcely acknowledge his existence. The solution: the Cicero Dean Investment Club, which “target[s]…major player[s] in the black people humiliation business,” employing carefully orchestrated credit-card fraud, identity theft and nonexistent (‘dummy’) corporations to purchase majority stock and engage in interstate commerce funded by stolen money. It works—until the inclusion of violence-prone drug dealer Raul raises stakes alarmingly, and the Club’s pyramid of profits comes tumbling down. This overstuffed novel nevertheless earns good marks for its nifty premise, crisp dialogue and well-handled plot. But it’s overdrawn. The same grievances are repeatedly aired, the same points hammered home incessantly. And when smoldering Sidarra and Adonis-like Griff tumble from collusion into the sack, Troutt succumbs to romance-novel rapture (“He wandered over her magnificence in search of thresholds to cross”).
A promising concept flattened by overdevelopment and inattention to nuance. Maybe next time.