"McFadden's Satisfying Novel is Better than Christmas"
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Format: Hardcover, 256pp
Pub. Date: January 2003
Reviewed by Thumper
Bernice McFadden continues to embellish her literary reputation and mastery of storytelling with her new novel, Loving Donovan. In this tale McFadden focuses on the participants of a romantic relationship rather than the relationship itself -- a refreshingly different perspective from what is displayed in most commercial fiction targeted toward African-American readers. Rather than the play-by-play Loving Donovan features the color and analysis part of the relationship. This is an insightful and engaging novel. After a brief moment's hesitation, I dived right in.
Loving Donovan is comprised of three sections. The first section belongs to Campbell. Campbell grew up with a love-starved mother and an adulterous father. Despite her emotional scars -- courtesy of her flawed parents and past romances -- Campbell is the type of woman who, figuratively, sits on a bus stop bench waiting for her prince to drive up, stop, and open the door with a liquid, sexy command to "Hop in." Donovan owns the second section. His childhood home was as dysfunctional as Campbell was, with a mother who was an unsatisfied woman and a father who was a mama's boy. Donovan's romantic relationships are put through an obstacle course built on the shrapnel and fallout from his parents' marriage. The third and final section features the romance of Campbell and Donovan including their ups and downs, and the rocky road that connects these two bruised lovers.
In the years since the publication of her unforgettable debut novel Sugar, McFadden has consistently produced one outstanding novel after the other. Every year, I wait on a new Bernice McFadden novel in the same way I anticipate Christmas. Thus I was a little pumped up when I received my copy of Loving Donovan. With the same excitement that I feel after being presented with an unexpected, beautifully wrapped gift, I read the description on the novel's back cover. My heart sank as if it had stepped off the edge of a cliff. Oh, no! This book is a romance!
Ain't no shame in my game. I can only read a couple of romance novels in any given 12-month period. I groaned and cursed at the prospect of reading another one. Lips were poked out.
Then questions, and conclusions that I could only reach with the help of a ladder or trampoline ran through my mind: Maybe McFadden's books aren't selling in the "right" quantities. Maybe she needs the money. If that's the case, I'll send her some dollars to encourage her to keep writing great books like Sugar and The Warmest December. The belief that one of the brightest voices on the literary horizon was "going commercial" was disheartening. (Now I know how the old church shouters felt when Aretha left hallowed grounds of gospel to sing the "devil's music".) With strains of James Brown's "Please, Please, Please (Don't Go)" playing in my head, I tucked my chin into my chest and plowed into Loving Donovan.
After reading Loving Donovan, I am ashamed, and have deemed myself silly! The novel that I began with trepidation turned out to be a book that was stunning, sharp, and jagged. What makes Loving Donovan unique is that McFadden's interest lies in the participants in the romance -- their back stories, motivations and development -- and not the romance itself, resulting in two fully rounded and compelling characters.
At the risk of sounding sadistic, McFadden made Campbell and Donovan complex and wonderfully broken. She offers readers an intense level of intimacy with the characters by providing a bird's eye view of their souls. By the time Campbell and Donovan hooked up, I knew each so well that I wondered if I was in for the often seen slow motion of a car accident, or perhaps, the birth of sunshine. I knew their pairing was going to be combustible, and would leave me uneasy.
Loving Donovan left me a little shaken -- not enough to seek therapy or anything -- just enough to make me pause. The story is tight. McFadden deftly manages to convey three unique points of view, gently displaying the nuts and bolts that formed each of the main characters. She also carefully placed words for maximum effect, and fashioned space into a smooth rhythm. The story flowed like ribbons of melted chocolate.
Loving Donovan is brilliant. By exploring the depth of her characters, the novel transforms what, on the surface, may appear to be the run-of-the-mill, paperback sentimental, tear-jerking coupling, into an understanding, unflinching, expertly told tale of human nature. Loving Donovan confirms that McFadden is continuing to raise the top of her game. I don't believe she has yet reached the zenith of her writing prowess. I continue to be intrigued and delighted with McFadden's work...as I am with Christmas!