An award-winning poet (The Riot Inside Me: More Trials and Tremors, 2005, etc.) presents a collection of short fiction.
In the first story, “Joy Ride,” Coleman demonstrates a poet’s feel not just for the meaning of words, but also the sound of words as she describes two young couples on a leisurely trip. The story is brief—not quite three pages long—but dense with emotion and incident. It’s also absolutely gruesome, and whether it’s a mordantly powerful parable or a well-crafted piece of schlock is open to interpretation. Indeed, opinions about this collection will most likely be divided among those who believe that Coleman deserves literary credit simply for attempting to address matters of race and class—that fiction about serious issues is, by definition, serious fiction—and those who believe that literature should deliver aesthetic pleasure even when it also functions as a social lesson. Certainly, the characters depicted—mostly black, mostly living in Los Angeles in the late-middle of the last century—are circumscribed by racism and poverty, and there is something poignant and horrible in realizing that these hobbled lives lived half a century ago are not all that different from the lives lived by African-Americans today; in that regard, Coleman makes her point. But, beyond that, she doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know. Coleman generally foregoes the lyricism of her opening tale, and the longer entries especially suffer from weak characterization and baroque plots. A melodrama about skin color, class, sex and revenge, “Winona’s Choice” is like a condensed Jackie Collins novel thinly incorporating African-American studies. “My Brain’s Too Tired to Think” is an uneasy mix of pop psychology, feminist theory and talk-show sensationalism. The shorter tales are slightly more successful, and “Darkness”—a taut, terse vignette about violence and its aftermath—is the best.
A flawed but not altogether unworthy exploration of race, class and the human condition.