Loving Donovan: A Review

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Author: Bernice McFadden

Title: Loving Donovan

Publish Date: January 27, 2003

Pages: 226 (Hardcover)


Terri McMillan writes in the introduction of Bernice McFadden’s novel, Loving Donovan:

“…I was struck by how much Bernice tackles in this seemingly straightforward story of romance. And while she addresses difficult topics such as pedophilia, domestic abuse, homophobia, abortion, depression, suicide, she writes with such finesses that she doesn’t leave the reader in total despair. Saddened at times, yes, but throughout it all, Bernice gives her characters hope.” (page 8)

Bernice McFadden masterfully takes her readers on an embraced journey that blurs the lines of time, space, and sometimes, sanity. The prologue exposes the beginning of an end, yet, as few writers can, remarkably exposes, comfortably, the trials of the human soul with emotional truth absent of punitive venom (although there is plenty of bite) and vulgarity. Each part (calling them chapters minimizes the overall nuance) of Loving Donovan carries readers across waves of family, community and social history. It tells the story of love: good, bad and in between, of longing and wanting and of realities so well-known that the characters will lose their fictitious names and take on the names of people you know.

Loving Donovan is a love story, of sorts, but it is so much more. It is a story of women who love too hard and men who are selectively blind to, or openly unsure of, how this thing called love was supposed to be achieved. It is the story of sexual lust and tension and deviation and uncertainty. It is the story of joy and blues, and joy in blues and sometimes, just blues. It is the story of love:  familial, manipulative, abusive, unrequited, and lost (including the inability to fully love oneself). Perhaps this definition or description does not do the brilliance and emotion of Loving Donovan justice, but McFadden has opened long shut doors and reveals details once hidden.

In the ‘part’ of Loving Donovan, entitled “Age Eight,” McFadden writes:

Millie don’t know why he act the way he do, say the things he say, and don’t seem to know either, ‘cause when she ask him , he just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Baby, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I spent the rent money, stayed out till dawn, had my hand on Viola Sampson’s knee… Millie, baby, I just don’t know.” (Page 21)

This passage is the overarching mantra of most of the men, even when they are silent. They simply do not know why, in any capacity, they do [some of] the things they do. This, from my purview, is not intended to universally denigrate men and is not, in my opinion, an attack on their character, but instead, in its complex simplicity, utters the truth (as aforementioned, McFadden opens doors once hidden) about simply complex relationships, knowledge of self, and misunderstandings of love. Equally, McFadden holds the women in the novel accountable, perhaps not as dramatically, but certainly enough for the reader to ask, “what in the hell were you thinking.” It seems that, for the most part their minds are occupied by thoughts of the men who should love them back, the way they deserve to be loved.

Loving Donovan parallels, essentially, the lives of Campbell and Donovan; their upbringing, their similarities and differences, and how a narrow space between them is indirectly shared  without awareness of each other’s presence. Their eventual bond is seemingly inevitable, coincidental, as they come through mazes of events that shape them into adults. They are the products of storied lives; experiences that build and destroy and leaves scars.  The scars run deep and they, especially Donovan, struggle with the monsters within.  Campbell, however, cautiously but simply looks for the”penguin” and found (was introduced to) Donovan. In the search for happy finishes, the reader will instead find beginnings, middles, and endings that explore and reveal romance in the real world; the uncertainty, difficulty, confusion, frustration,  and agape of an undefinable emotion.

Bernice McFadden magnificently captures the full lives of her characters in Loving Donovan without adding filler. Each ‘part’ is straight forward, clean, and familiar. I was lost in the lives that McFadden so gingerly and intentionally breathed life into. In the end, Donovan became a ghost, disappearing into the realm of eternal goodbyes and Campbell fell into the bottomless well of emotional despair until the bottom rose to meet her (she cuts her hair — a symbol of change and surrender). She was lifted slowly from that abyss, and although granted a new happiness, is still secretly lured to the edge, from which she’d carefully glance down into its darkness, hoping that Donovan returned to resume their story.

McFadden writes:

The love she had for him never changed, never shifted or waned, just lodged inside her, wrapped around her heart.

She still looks for him behind the smoke-glass windows of Benzes…

Her heart still hopes when the phone rings…

And finally…

Campbell has a better understanding of love and the paths God and the universe have laid out for her, and it allows her to muse that perhaps she and Donovan will meet again in another life, on another plane…

…she as the sand, him as the sea…

…him as the moon, she as the stars…

…penguins… (pages 255-256)

This was a beautiful journey, one that is unforgettable, familiar and awakening. In the literary styles of Angelou, Walker, Morrison, and Brooks (just to name a few), McFadden is a voice that resonates and becomes fodder for evening conversations. Although, thematically, love is the subject, the truest love is that which the reader will unquestionably feel for McFadden as a writer and her novels, as national treasures.

BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of three awards from the BCALA. McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Book of Harlan is her latest novel.(from Amazon)



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