A chance encounter unites two unlikely black soul mates in this debut novel.
For Ruby, it is another hot and humid August afternoon in Harlem. Her day begins with a tour of the neighborhood, rummaging through the trash for trinkets and treasures before the garbage collectors come and take it away. A native of Metairie, Louisiana, Ruby found herself among Harlem’s homeless after a series of tragedies left her destitute. For nearly 20 years, she has followed the same routine, until she encounters a man leaning against the wall of a barbershop. His regal bearing fascinates her and she gives him a gift, a piece of eggplant skin she calls his “skin-mate,” and renames him Eggplant Man. The stranger, LeRoy Vaughn Reed, is a gifted musician who ended up homeless after serving time in prison for a crime he did not commit. Their connection is instant and powerful, but Ruby hesitates to act on her feelings, fearful of her mother’s admonition that “people die and men leave.” Despite her concerns, she is ready to pursue her attraction to LeRoy, and they discover that they have a natural rapport. Happiness is within their grasp when tragedy threatens to separate them forever. De Leaver’s novel is an incisive portrait of two people finding a second chance at hope and love. The narrative focuses exclusively on Ruby and LeRoy and they are nuanced characters whose attraction never feels forced for the sake of the narrative. The author is particularly adept at developing their stories through flashbacks and carefully chosen details, such as Ruby’s strict adherence to a specific radius when looking through garbage, which reveal how they navigate their lives on the streets of Harlem. The prose is spare and lyrical, and effectively incorporates poetry and song lyrics to express Ruby and LeRoy’s innermost hopes and fears (At one point, he muses about his skin color: “Now I walk with head held high / And wisdom under my cap / Knowing that my fear did die /And it’s beautiful to be black”). That said, the book is short and, although De Leaver builds a solid foundation for their relationship, the final chapters move so quickly that additional opportunities for character development are missed.
A sensitively drawn portrait of the healing power of love.