Book Review: Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
Publication Date: Mar 01, 2002
List Price: $23.95
Format: Hardcover, 324 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Paige Turner
Randy, the main character in Denene Millner and Nick Chiles "Love Don't
Live Here Anymore" reflects on his marriage: "What had happened to
the intense sexual fires that had kept us in a constant state of
inflammation?" This is a good question and an issue that many
contemporary couples face. How can a marriage fulfill its potential once
the thrill of shiny new sex has worn off and a couple has to come to grips with
boring issues like finances, health, jobs and other unsexy stuff?
Husband and wife writing team Millner and Chiles have established themselves as experts in black male-female relations with the "What Brothers Think, What Sistahs Know" non-fiction book series. In Love Don't Live Here Anymore, their novel book, they present in the characters of Randy and Mikki, people who are realistic, flawed, and self-absorbed -- no, make that self obsessed. But enough about them, lets talk about them.
Mikki and Randy have been married for three years and are an attractive, sexy, upwardly mobile Buppie couple with a "tastefully decorated" townhouse in Brooklyn's tony Fort Green section. They are well on the way to being the golden couple, one who attains the myth of "Having it All." Spelman graduate Mikki owns a fledgling afrocentric bridal design business. Yale grad Randy is making impressive strides as an account executive in the exclusive world of big time advertising. When Randy advances his career further by accepting a three-month assignment in Paris the marriage experiences a Grand Canyon sized rift.
The character of Mikki (the apparent heroine) is the novel's greatest weakness. She is poorly developed and possesses virtually no qualities that would endear her to readers. Her tongue is a lethal weapon, and she is always saying just the right thing to leave friends and family shattered and devastated. Mikki is perpetually grumpy (PMS challenged?), and it is downright perplexing why she treats her clients like garbage when she is trying to build her business. She does not care for children, and is "scared" and "lonely" to be left alone for a few months while her husband fulfills his overseas assignment.
It is a good thing that more sensible black women like Mikki's mother, best friend and sister have strong voices to counterbalance Mikki's flakiness. Her behavior in the book begs the question: Are black women really so jittery and needy that they can not cope with a spouse's brief absence?
Readers may wonder if this even a marriage worth rooting for. There are some cute moments that reflect the warts and all, real life things that get in the way of modern romance, such as the introduction of a poorly chosen hairstyle or an ill-timed sneeze. But basically this is a one-dimensional situation comedy of a novel, concerned with sex and ego. What common interests do Randy and Mikki have other than sex and consumerism? What brought them together in the first place? It sure ain't a love of poetry or of doing good works in the community.
Millner and Chiles throw in an interesting plot development where Mikki discovers that she and her father share the same weakness, but she none the less finds herself unable to forgive him. This was a good development and made the characters more genuine, but it was not as effectively used as it could have been as a springboard for Mikki's coming to terms with herself.
A few segments of Love Don't Live Here Anymore are almost priceless in unselfconscious insight.
"It was a valid question to ask: was the state of marriage truly endangered at the close of the twentieth century? Perhaps American society had transformed so radically that two individuals rarely had the emotional strength and psychological fortitude to sustain a monogamous relationship anymore. Marriage was very difficult work, a fact that hadn't been shared with many members of my generation. The common response to the discovery of the labor involved was to throw up the hands and surrender, to conclude that survival was a skill most of us hadn't located. We were all drowning in the muck of conflict and dissension, wondering why we had ever thought a life could be shared with another person. We weren't used to the everyday pain, the incessant struggle, the regular ingestion of pride. When the storms came, we had no choice but to flee, for we had no alternative."
If only this brilliant level of writing and analysis were more evident throughout the book.
The novel's conclusion presents no resolutions concerning Randy and Mikki's
marriage, friends, family, or with them gaining insight and being redeemed.
Important characters are just left hanging. The lack of resolution
regarding the pivotal character of Marcus is particularly jarring.
The chapters alternate between Randy's and Mikki's points of view with Randy getting the first and last words. Perhaps the technique of the authors writing alternating chapters contributed to the novel's disjointedness and lack of focus. The book nicely reflects the messiness and randomness of real life. True dat. But it is missing the payoffs and satisfying and comeuppances that can be found in any soap opera.
The challenge of how upward mobility and career aspirations can harm a marriage should provide meaty material for exploration. But Love Don't Live Here Anymore does not live up to this promise. If this book and these characters are an accurate reflection of the state of black marriages, and the maturity and judgment of black professionals, then the community is in abysmal trouble.