In an ambitious first novel held captive to its themes of racism, art, and abiding love, a vow made by two African-American women leads them to fame, fortune—and heartbreak.
In carefully wrought prose, the Michigan-based author earnestly mixes Afrocentrist ideas about art and race with feminist goals of autonomy, in a story that tries hard to celebrate a pair of strong black women who follow their stars only to find there is more to life. The dual narrators, sisters under the skin, Chloe Emmanuel and Michael Davies, separately recall the way they met, their past histories, and the heartwarming epiphanies that finally bring them happiness. Thirtyish Chloe, divorced and about to leave for Paris and the painterly life, meets 17-year-old Michael, who has her own artistic ambitions (in her case, to write), while visiting Washington's National Gallery. The women become friends, and vow to be strong black women, to be successful, and to never let a man turn them away from their dreams. In Paris, Chloe is soon mixing in fashionable circles, painting like crazy, and having affairs, first with notorious womanizer Lucien, and then—more seriously—with Emil Mathurin, a celebrated French-Caribbean actor. Stateside, Michael, by now a noted professor of African literature, goes to England to teach, then falls in love with and marries a fellow academic, a white man by the name of Drew. Back in France, Chloe finds she’s too committed to her art to love fully (she also has a secret she’s been hiding since she was five), so she refuses Emil’s marriage proposal. In the meantime, Michael, doubting Drew’s fidelity, has an affair of her own. By the close, both women will face a life-changing crisis.
Despite the politically correct trappings: an old-fashioned tale about the power of love too consciously worked out to be affecting.