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With this painfully sincere collection of poems, stories, and character pieces, Ruby Dee joins the unhappy pantheon of actors, such as Jimmy Stewart and Leonard Nimoy, who have strayed disastrously into scribbling. Most of these pieces are drawn from Dee’s traveling one-woman show, also called My One Good Nerve. And so, the pieces may perform better than they read. You can guess where Dee as performer might pause dramatically, where she—d slip fully into a character, and where she—d build cadences eloquently, but the words and lines themselves, ranging from prosaic to warmed-over to embarrassing, do not equal her actor’s gifts. She suffers from the misconception, common to many amateur poets, that adapting prose by shortening line lengths and inserting a few repetitions will indeed result in a poem: “Tupac./Spelled backwards—/Caput. Meaning/ Finished. Over. Ended. Done./Twenty-six was it?/Oh my God. So young/Mouths drop. Stop in/Unbelieving anguish and surprise . . .” Her writing is arranged here loosely according to theme—a section on love, an aggregation of “comic” musings, grouped tributes to African-American heroes, and a woman-power wrap-up. There are well-intentioned allegorical musings on racism, fractured fairy tales and nursery rhymes, poems “celebrating” everyone from James Baldwin to Marvin Gaye . . . and it is all, with barely the breath of exception, misconceived, mishandled, and misbegotten. Dee writes what she knows, which is part of the problem. She’s piggybacking off tired modes and models, and shows neither the gifts nor the inclination to create anything original (or expertly derivative). All she has to offer is earnestness. As Oscar Wilde put it, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.” (A joint memoir by Dee and her husband, Ossie Davis, will be published by William Morrow, also in November.) (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1998
ISBN: 0-471-31704-7
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1998