A Desert Storm veteran's amateurish and overwritten, if not without a certain rakish appeal, first novel—about African-Americans in the military—pulls few punches in depicting the tribulations of First Lieutenant Sanderella Coffee.
Twenty-nine and just back from a tour of duty in Germany, Sanderella is focused on her illustrious goal—biding her time in Virginia until she’s admitted to Officers’ Candidate School. A single mother of three (by three fathers), Sanderella admits that when matters veer toward love, she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So she swears off men—that is, until she catches sight of Drill Sergeant Romulus Caesar. As the story alternates between the voices of Sandie and Rom (so seamlessly it’s often difficult to tell who’s talking), the two begin a passionate affair, despite Romulus being married, with twin boys at home. He promises Sandie he’ll divorce, and for a certain time their relationship seems promising. The two, neither of them particularly likable, build a supportive relationship, one that helps carry Sandie through hard times: Her older sister has HIV, both of her parents are ill, her superior officer has it in for her, and, to top it off, she discovers she’s pregnant. Unfortunately coinciding with Sandie’s pregnancy is the appearance of Rom’s guilty conscience. He decides to break it off and return to his wife and sons, not wanting to be the kind of absent parent his father was to him. Though overloaded with uplifting convictions as to the potential of the African-American community, a certain raw honesty in the depiction of Sandie and her family redeems the obvious sentiments. Less forgivable is the language, too often ungoverned and unintentionally silly: “ ‘Sandie,’ he said as he reached inside his briefs and carefully extracted his family jewels, ‘this is Mr. Bobo. And he’s all yours.’ ”
Points for honesty and grit, though that’s hardly enough to compensate for all the flaws.