A Review of Bernice McFadden’s “Sugar”

 

Title: Sugar: A Novel

Author: Bernice L. McFadden:

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: Dutton Adult (January 10, 2000)

Bernice McFadden’s first novel, Sugar, encapsulates the elements that exemplify the making of a classic. This is not to say that it was perfect, for that would be pretentious on my part, but it was arguably a guaranteed page turner that you hoped would last just a little while longer. As a debut, Sugar did not lack any of the many elements we have come to know and love about McFadden’s storytelling style or her imaginative, colorful, and captivating characters. But the tale, even with its twists, was simple – direct with less density than, let’s say, The Book of Harlan (one of my favorite novels). Stylistically, it was as vivid, engaging, and captivating —  unmistakably McFadden.

Set in Bigelow, Arkansas, Sugar takes the reader on a heartfelt journey through poetic pain and the lives of Sugar Lacey and Pearl Taylor (primarily), and a host of others (secondarily). Sugar’s deleterious childhood, overwhelmed by scars and filled with a level of isolation that steals her youth and ultimately her identity, contributes to the creating of the wayward woman she becomes.

Pearl, we learn early in the novel, struggles with her own isolation, but unlike Sugar’s, hers is involuntarily self-imposed, developed after the tragic and brutal murder of her daughter, Jude. This isolation is not so much about staying out of the company of others (she finds both companionship and solace in church), or even being an effective mother to her other children (Seth, her son, speaks on this point in a single but precise statement later in the book), as it is about withdrawing into herself. 

Pearl’s actions and personality scream depression but McFadden is careful not to label her, allowing the emotional wave we ride with Pearl to reveal, by layer, her quiet but obvious struggle. This internal conflict catapults Pearl into a place from which she cannot easily escape until Sugar crosses her path forming and firming an unusual friendship and, progressively, the voids they’ve carried are seemingly filled.

Sugar Lacey is bold, worldly, mysterious and irresistible. She is a woman equally desired and hated, caught, it seems, in a complex network of interconnected (and interlocking) elements, surviving the only way she knows how, by giving pleasure, yet seems to have relegated herself undeserving of joy. She is a vassal to the highest bidder, a beast of burden, a mannequin sans emotions, and as such she receives nothing but a womb filled with frustration. But despite her transgressions and unsavory nonchalance,  she has a heart longing, from the child she never was, for unconditional love.

Sugar reinvents Pearl, rebuilding the confidence she sorely lacked and the sexiness she secretly, seemingly, yearned for. She takes Pearl from mundane to magnificent, while Joe, Pearl’s husband who would object to this rebirth (and perhaps revelation) or so we are made to believe, is out of town (his reaction shortly after his return dismisses all assumptions, including Pearl’s). The elements of resurrection (the church is an important “character”) develop almost seamlessly throughout the book and the conflicts are broad but not alarming or distasteful; they are real and familiar.

Sugar, as a novel, is multitudinous — an impassioned vision, seething with hope and finishing with unexpected confessions, familiar brutality and wow factor discoveries. It would make for an amazing movie, an incredible television series or Broadway-worthy stage play (think The Color Purple). I was enveloped by Bernice McFadden’s voice, slowly consuming each chapter and resting a day before beginning the next.  I am that kid waiting for her upcoming creations with bated breath and wondrous anticipation. Read Sugar, and you’ll understand. I promise.

 

 

 

Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam War Refusal Will Be Documented In Mini Series

Source: Harry Benson / Getty In a time when every deceased legend is being immortalized by biopics and documentaries, it only makes sense that Muhammad Ali would get the same treatment. The boxer who passed in June 2016 is getting a Showtime scripted mini series titled The Ali Summit, about his refusal to participate in the Vietnam…

via Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam War Refusal Will Be Documented In Mini Series — HelloBeautiful

The Cook Up: A Review

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Title: The Cook Up

Author: D. Watkins

Hardcover: 272 pages

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 3, 2016)

I am selfishly at a crossroads, perhaps a little flummoxed, maybe just enough of an editor to notice the small stuff. For just over a year, I have been reading the work of D. Watkins voraciously; from his articles in Salon to the two books he released. He is, in many respects, an urban (metropolitan) Charles Dickens, telling and retelling stories that are completely American, based on an America that is well known yet so foreign to most of America. It is for this reason that when reading his 2016 release, The Cook Up, the story of crack dealing and use in Baltimore, on my Kindle, that I was disappointed by the number of editing errors that appeared throughout the book. Still, The Cook Up was a tremendous literary voyage.

His colorfully entertaining but wholly true tales of drugs and life in Baltimore was an exploration in ‘A’ plus ‘B’ equals ‘C’ sociology. Its characters, customs, and profound and unexpurgated vibe are, for me, some of the best emotional story-telling about real world issues in the little-big town of Charm City. Watkins pulls no punches; he instead battle-rams his points directly into your chest, with no apology. He writes about his world– the world he knows best– and his books, articles, and interviews leave no doubt about who he is and where he’s from.

The Cook Up is drugs, sex, and cars, music, relationships, murder, blood, tears, and losing one’s soul to the unknown; a memoir dotted with sandman bluesy sorrow and ‘thug life’ elation. It exposes the pain of being African-American in a city (country) that recognizes orange jumpsuit numbers before learning [and aknowleging] government or neighborhood names. It exposes the pain of being African-American in a city that remains divided by color, class, and education.

Watkins is keen on relationships, forthright in the complicated  variables that produce those relationships, and if you are confused, read the following exchange for clarity:

Guy (Baltimore City police officer) and Tatter Man (Watkins’ cousin)

My younger cousin Tatter Man, who never broke the law in his life, came through the block to get some money from me for his prom one night. I hit him with the cash and we walked down to the Chinese spot to get some shrimp fried rice and gravy, Tatter walked out the door in time for one of Guy’s sweeps.

“What the — is that your dinner? yelled Guy to a confused Tatter.

“Yeah, I got some rice, what?”

“Boy, you being smart!” Guy responded as he knocked Tatter’s food to the ground. I watched from the window as Guy used his boot to smash the rice into the concrete.

The Cook Up is another wake-up call in the age of  Trumpian political philosophy. It has exposed and, perhaps, reawakened the sleeping giant that lingered in waiting. Watkins speaks the language of his community, his friends, and those who want to be heard but have been silenced by irreversible circumstance. It is a story well known, with a history that still longs for a comprehensive audience. Thanks to Watkins, that audience is discovering the history.

 

The Beast Side: REVIEW

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Title: The Beast Side

Author: D. Watkins

Paperback: 208 pages

Publisher: Hot Books; Reprint edition (September 27, 2016)

“D. Watkins is a very sharp young talent who transformed himself from a dealer on the streets to an adjunct professor, and most important, to a leading voice of his generation who is determined to see justice for the black community. The Beast Side is raw, intelligent, and at times humorous—and a necessary narrative in these challenging times!” —Michael Eric Dyson, author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
The jarring, sometimes depressing, often enlightening narrative that encompasses the 208 pages of “The Beast Side” is one of a troubled  America (through the eyes of Baltimore), left to grapple with unresolved and newly developed issues. We are touched by the narrative; all of us, whether Black, White, Native American, Latino,  Asian, or a combination thereof. We are this narrative; the outline that provided a perfect landscape for D. Watkins to masterfully and horrifically connect the dots.
More than I can personally recall, we have become wholly desensitized to the cruel and barbaric nature of our burgeoning society. We have learned to turn a blind eye to a reality that is continually festering and rearing an ugliness many are simply hoping would, one day, fade away,  perhaps into the same abyss as Beowulf’s monster, Grendel; and return reborn, renewed, hopeful. We have become an ensemble of wishers and waiters, certain that if we wait and wish long enough a brighter day is just over the horizon, while we wallow in the muck of a suffocating darkness. We are the old man and the depth of his misery:
It was like the misery felt by an old man
who has lived to see his son’s body
swing on the gallows. He begins to keen
and weep for his boy, watching the raven
gloat where he hangs: he can be of no help.
The wisdom of age is worthless to him
 Morning after morning,  he wakes to remember
that his child has gone; he has no interest
in living on until another heir
is born in the hall… –Beowulf
D. Watkins delivers this message, effortlessly. Revealing that the hell that strikes consternation in the hearts of many is pulchritudinous to others and that we are now living in a poorly composed polyphony. The truly brutal truth that we, of every race, do not want to admit exists. He invites us to peer through a peephole that reveals an almost unconscionable reality: that people do live in the imperfections of a world that they did not create but were relegated to reside inside of until madness or death took them to the edge of and over that horizon. He reminds us that the levels of unfeelingness is not only alive but is procreating and regenerating into unidentifiable high-tolerance formations that eat at our flesh and gnaw, ad infinitum, on our skeletal remains.
In the opening passages, Watkins writes:
“… I participated in a peaceful protest near downtown Baltimore. My fellow protesters and I were standing in solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, over the murder of Mike Brown — an innocent African-American teen, who was on his way to college when he was cut down by a policeman’s bullets. It felt good to unite with so many different people for the same cause — a diverse group with handmade signs and a shared sense of outrage. But even as we shouted for justice, I knew it wasn’t enough from my experiences in rallying for the Jena Six and Trayvon Martin. I do have an immense amount of respect for protestors, marchers, and organizers — but in the end, after all that chanting, marching, and lying down in traffic, Darren Wilson, the cop, who murdered Brown, still went free, and cops in America still feel comfortable killing innocent black people.”
Watkins writes from where his bucket was cast; delivering unapologetic prose that undeniably was intended (at least, I hope) to make as many people as uncomfortable as possible. If this was not his purpose, it perhaps should have been; he does it magnificently.  He is a Baltimorean, a Native,  from the (B)Eastside of this apoplectic metropolis, wearing the city like a pair of comfortable shoes. Watkins’ voice is the voice of the many children and residents I have heard speaking their complex language during the 23 years that I have resided in Baltimore. It is a voice that roars without echo. Throughout the book, Watkins takes us on a journey through the gritty, and often dismal straits of a beautiful wonderland. It is easy to become enveloped by the stories and easier to embrace the cast of characters that invisibly occupy seventy percent of the crowded Charm City streets. His childhood friends, money making comrades, food providing saints and blood-thirsty enemies, give color and illumination to what could easily become defined as a symphony of urban sorrow.
The Beast Side is a reminder, a wake-up call, a prosaic tour of a world we know so well, and others view in awe. It awakens the selectively blind to the countless injustices that have become our miserable expectation. It explains why we cannot lay aside our warrior selves; preparing our sword, our words, our hearts, and our souls for what our 400 years of intuitive DNA reveal to us.The battle continues. The war of race, face and inequality rages on. The emergence of another enemy, lurking in waiting, in the shadows for their opportunity to leap, is absolute. The difference is that the 18th-century mentalities are not yet aware that they are fighting against a 21ST CENTURY ARMY.
D. Watkins has composed a thinkers book in The Beast Side. There is the desire to pause, in contemplation and reflection after each chapter. And like the calm after a Tsunami, or the annihilation of Grendel by a chirping bird’s song,  Watkins ends with:
Yes, it was the image of a Black man in the White House that maybe has made it a little easier for us to make our way through the day, or at least to get a ride. But Uber has probably changed the racial dynamic in the cab industry more than Obama has. Because of Uber, cabs can’t afford to discriminate against me any longer. The cab industry had no choice but to change.
America needs a game-changing Uber shift in the political arena–a massive influx of minority activists, politicians, educators, and history makers. One Black man cannot bring about that change, but an army of people committed to making opportunity available for everybody can and will.
Yeah… it’s that simple.

Don’t Start None…Won’t Be None.

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FEAR IS NOT AN OPTION

If you’ve read my previously blog (Fear Factor: Election 2016), you already know that I am not a political stalwart, but I am an American citizen, and if I were to wager a guess, I am descendent of at least 300 years of America. This is simply a guess, but one which I will claim until proven otherwise. It is for this reason that I let the vitriolic rhetoric that is and was being spewed simply roll off. It is also the reason that I find it impossible to fear any single (or collective) man who calls himself this country’s  political leader.

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Did the Country Fall for a Short Sale?

I do understand that the idea behind a democracy is to quell chaos, institute order, and provide citizens a respectable quality of life. But that democratic method of thinking, as ideal as it is, has quickly become archaic and, whether we admit it or not, is virtually unheard by a new breed of ‘free-thinkers.’ As odd as it may be to conceive, considering the outcome of the last presidential election, these same ‘free-thinkers’ helped in electing the nation’s first Black president with margins so wide, one would think that the demons of racism and social/lifestyle discrimination had fallen into an irretrievable abyss. Barack Obama not only smashed the wall of political normalcy but he smashed the structures surrounding it. But eight years later, all of that changed.

Over the course of fifty plus years, the harbinger has been making the call that the fights for the eradication of separatist ideologies will be met by forces not yet known.

Enters, Donald Trump…

1) “(John McCain is) not a war hero…. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.

2) “I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?” – Trump’s comment about paralyzed commentator Charles Krauthammer

3) “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” after talking about a poll showing Ben Carson was beating him in Iowa

4) “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture….When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness. I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed.”

5) “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” – Trump overestimates the number of people cheering after 911 by thousands and stuck with it even though he knew what he said wasn’t true

6) “(Obama) doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”

7) “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”

8) “I am embracing the issue, and I’m proud of the issue. I think somebody has to embrace it because, frankly, the people that are – and I don’t like the name ‘birther,’ because I think it’s very unfair and I think it’s very derogatory to a lot of very good people that happen to think that there’s a possibility that this man was not born in this country, and by the way, if that were true, you know it’s very interesting, if that were true, it’d be the greatest scam in the history of this country.”

9) “You know, when (Ben Carson) says he went after his mother and wanted to hit her in the head with a hammer. That bothers me. I mean, that’s pretty bad. I’m not saying anything other than pathological is a severe disease. And he said he’s pathological, somebody said he has pathological disease. It’s in the book that he’s got a pathological temper. That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”

10) “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, (Carly Fiorina’s) a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

11) “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.

12) “You could see there was blood coming out of (Megyn Kelly’s) eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.”

13) “Beautiful, famous, successful, married – I’ve had them all, secretly, the world’s biggest names, but unlike Geraldo, I don’t talk about it.” – From Trump’s “Think Big and Kick Ass.”

14) “I don’t think Ivanka would do that [pose for Playboy], although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

15) “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

Source: John Hawkins– Townhall.com. January 19, 2016

“You Don’t Want No Problem With Me!”

— Chance the Rapper

 

And Still We Rise…

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Along this journey — along this pathetic road– there were far too many ill-tempered words said and many more incomprehensible matters televised, and I know, with distinct certainty, that this country, at least for that period had suffered a massive divide.  The country is bleeding, but we have become immune; victims of a trauma we no longer feel. But the unfortunate reality is that this country has always been divided by the color of skin, accent, religion, gender, or philosophy.  We hold these truths to be self-evident….

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Without lamenting on and reliving a well known, yet poorly documented, history, we (people of color, especially African-Americans) have overcome a multitude of social and emotional atrocities, proving that we have the veracity to defeat that which so desperately wishes to defeat us. Fear, to some degree, has been our constant; not because we are afraid, but because there exists a shroud of impenetrable mystery.

In the life of any African-American, every day, exacerbated by the profound and inexplicable reoccurring of racially inspired incidents, to immeasurable degrees, marks a painful reminder that life isn’t always fair. Thankfully, this does not deter us. We remain resilient, despite the media coverage finding only those stories that show brown faces committing heinous crimes, furthering the misconception and wholly mistaken ideology that all people with brown/black complexions are inherently demonic. Indeed this inaccurate image left a lasting impression. So, here we are… in a country that is confused and conflicted.

On that November night, when the country and the world stared blankly at television screens and emotions went awry, a cloud of bulbous darkness extinguished the light that had shone for many years prior. In that moment, as another ‘blue’ state plunged into a deepening ‘red’ ocean,  the images of the Bushs didn’t seem so bad. But the country had spoken, and the nightmare was no longer simply in a dream, and those who abhorred the thought of a Trumpian government were now forced to accept what was touted as absolute. Cheers and chants rang throughout the states and social and mass media volleyed for outrageousness. Neither won… Trump did, and he promised one unspoken thing; four years of unequaled chaos. Supporters chanted and cheered.

Still, to fear what he or his cronies can or will [try to] do is relatively unwarranted. It is not about hope or prayer or some supernatural phenomenon, but it is about the door that has been reopened to reveal that this country is and is not what we thought. For older generations, this marks another chapter in the”Business as Usual” book, as they are well prepared for what we are to face as a nation. The young, new to this pathetic maze, are relying on answers that are generated through “Big Brother” but are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder, stressing that their genetic structure still harbors 300-year-old wounds or historical recall. They have proven that they will not be moved.

Why are we afraid? We aren’t! Our feet are planted; our roots are deep. We are America!

Election 2016:Fear Factor

 

Okay, let’s be honest. Politically speaking, this country is , for all intents and purposes, screwed. Now, allow me to explain.

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To begin, I am not a hardcore political enthusiast. You will not find me arguing with flannel attired F-150’s about Hillary, Trump, or the state of an ever-changing America. But I follow the effects of politics and its impact on my day to day existence and how decisions made will affect the country, as a whole, in the long term. In a rush that continues to mystify me,  the political process changed exponentially, eighteen months ago, when a murder of Republicans crowded upon stages across the country, stoic and robotic,  bidding for the chance to become POTUS. The lies were magnanimous; promises that would never come to fruition were argued with the passion of a kindergartener whose cookie was eaten  by another four year old. Leading the charge was Donald Trump and no one took him seriously, welcoming, in fact, the crass, rude comedy he brought to the rote bullshit interactions that for decades defined political debates. But his face was plastered everywhere. He had become omnipresent, even in our sleep and in an instant, I, and a great part of the nation were consumed by fear, knowing that regardless of the November 8, 2016 outcome, we were certain of one thing: we were soon to become the victims of a JACKED and divided country.

So, here we are,  at the post position of the Presidential Election, and by the time I complete this essay Donald Trump, as POTUS elect and Pence as V-POTUS elect and Melania as FLOTUS confused,  will  be joined, possibly, by a chosen menagerie of unique characters. It has been a horrific journey and it is just beginning. The American people have revealed the crack in their armor and decided that divisive methods, finger pointing, unsubstantiated blame, fear-mongering, the denigration of Original People ( this includes our Mexican brothers and sisters) and the anti-Arab ( it was translated Moslem, but it wasn’t about religion, it was about appearance) sentiment, were more enticing than the policies that would unite and better the country.

Since that fateful day in November the nation, formerly know as the United States, has been lost in an emotional tailspin. With few exceptions, scores of Americans remain, to this very second,  glued to the news and social media (a very unreliable source) to follow what can only be regarded as “the unravelling of an empire.” Translations of pre-election rhetoric continues to be spewed, heightening a separation of races and common beliefs between people who at once shared coffee and non-political chatter. Within a week of the election foolish young Americans, fueled with a tainted and ignorant mythology, took to the streets and airs waves with right wing banter that died a century ago; assuming, I guess, that the same intimidations that caused  my forefathers to shutter in fear and run in panic, still applied. To them I say…Dude… new day… new time.

There is much to say, but honestly, the thickening of the air doesn’t need to be starched any further. We will move through this time, look back in months or years to come, and say what has always been said…’never again.’ But that statement will not be true, and we know it. There will come another time, another Trump with a different mask, and another manipulative, hypnotic force preying on sullen and disenfranchised souls, because there always is, and there always will be. Our job is to stay aware, keep our wits, build that wall around our hearts and souls, and know that even the worst of storms, although when in the middle of it, appears to be endless, never lasts forever.

God Bless you and God Bless these UNITED States.