Spears’ novel speaks to the most distressing concerns of contemporary African-American life.
The book is an exploration of the personal, economic and familial trials of Tequila Victorious, a multiple rape survivor from an acrimonious home; her children, Alizay and R&B; and their father, Lightnin. When the novel opens, Tequila is an aspiring singer leveraging sexual favors for a break, and the stars in her eyes match Lightnin’s, a lothario with vague ambitions. After a shooting and an arson attack force them from their home in Promise, a predominately prosperous neighborhood in a Chicago-analogue town in the Midwest, Tequila relocates her family to Bling City, something like New York, where most of the story takes place. In Bling City, Tequila’s arc diverges from Lightnin’s; she works several jobs, supports the endeavors of her children and sings on the side, while her partner—later husband—seems hardwired for drinking, cheating and, occasionally, domestic abuse. Discord increases with Lightnin’s jealousy over their son R&B’s budding entertainment career, and industrious, scholastic Alizay faces challenges of her own. Allegory and unfiltered realism blur in Spears’ story, which attempts to illuminate the contemporary African-American social and political condition while providing psychological diagnoses of individuals and families struggling with subsistence-level earnings. The book is written in an Ebonicslike slang and narrated by an aunt of Tequila’s who is conspicuously absent from the plot. The dialect breathes life into the characters but also blocks the narrative; the action of the book is turbulent and it’s difficult to interpret the minutiae of a character’s psychology as written, especially when characterization is entwined with a broader social argument. Spears’ book is graphic, unsparing and unapologetic, and strongest when it drops the allegory and gets personal, particularly in the case of Tequila when, in rare moments when the prose is analytically unencumbered, her earnest reflection is moving and poetic. But even Tequila, though a sympathetic character, holds views that are at best culturally insensitive, and at worst ethnocentric and damaging.
A niche book for readers with thick skin.