Book Review: Loving Donovan
Book 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.
Dutton (January 2003)
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!