By S. Renee Bess
April 7, 2014
Lesbian fiction/ Mature/ African American/ Contemporary
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC
Blackmail, murder, missing persons, and concealed identities link lives that otherwise, would have remained unconnected.
London Phillips searches for affirmation and for Milagros Farrow, a revered lesbian author who seems to have vanished.
Lenah Miller arms herself against memories of her past as well as those who dismiss her because their backgrounds differ.
Rand Carson seeks to replace one lost interracial relationship with a second one.
Candace Dickerson executes a plot to enrich herself with other peoples' earnings.
The threads entwined around London's desire for connection with a kindred spirit, Lenah's wary skepticism, Rand's misguided ardor, and Candace's greed come undone when three fall victim to blackmail, one reappears from the ethers of the past, and another succumbs to murder.
I loved, loved this book. I wrote part of this review and posted it on Goodreads not really ready to fully express what I felt about this book. It's so deep and nuanced and maybe too hard for me to articulate everything I felt about it. It left me feeling like I had made a new friend who intimately shared an interesting life with me.
The Rules touches on so many different issues. Most particularly issues around being an African American and a lesbian and dealing with the expectations of both the white and black community both culturally and on a personal level. The way the characters experience their lives is expressed with a lot of insight into those issues. It's also about the importance of shared experiences in making relationships work and also the comfort involved in that even if a relationship doesn't flourish.
That this story is about mature women was another huge plus. It's fairly rare to read about women who are at a stage in their lives when experience has taught them that they don't have to rush into anything and can make decisions on who they are vs what’s expected in furthering their careers and in relating.
Author S. Renee Bess excels at in-depth characterizations and weaving a good story. Each of the characters in this story have distinct personalities and we get to see how each change slightly depending on who they are relating to. They are all connected even if they are unaware of how. And I particularly respect that all of the characters have flaws. Just when I'd think, oh I like this character and hope it works out for them, they do something kind of crappy and then I’d think, oh this is an interesting twist. However, their vulnerabilities were shown as well so it was easy to see their point of view even with negative traits at times.
London is sort of the main character and whenever she’s on screen, the story is written in first person. The other characters get a lot of page time as well so each reader might relate to any of them. Due to starting the book at the point of London’s childhood and upbringing, we get to see some of the experiences that helped shape who she is now in time. She’s an older woman who is at a point in her life when she wants to advance her career and maybe find love, but is in many ways accepting of where she’s at as well. There’s a certain assuredness and quietness about her, which seems to come from age and experience. She’s a very likable character and it’s through her we see the issues she and others face as an African Americans, women, and lesbians. We get to see her come to terms with her decisions about her life that are at times in conflict with the expectations of her community and how she’s been brought up.
Lenah, one of the other main characters, is portrayed as having both positive and negative qualities, as are most of the characters What I found intriguing about her is that the demise of her last relationship is about her not being ambitious enough for her partner, but when she meets London, she gets on her case about her career choices. Her role in this story is more about the shared experiences I mentioned up stream. She and London have a rocky start in their relationship, but in the end, it’s their shared commonality of being African American and lesbians and having similar cultural experiences even though they come from different social statuses. What I liked about her is that once a huge weight is lifted from her shoulders she becomes more open and honest with London, when she had been more critical of her initially. She changes and grows and I liked that.
It’s through both of these women that we also get to experience the everyday racism they experience in the form of “good intentions” from white people who think they are allies. This leads me to another thing I loved about this book; this is the first story really in which I’ve read a racist, appropriator white character who isn’t the overt, easy to hate racists.
Rand is an interesting character in that she thinks she’s standing up for, fighting for and supporting African Americans, but is really a fetishizer of black women and an appropriator of black culture. She is the typical white person who thinks they are progressive and open minded, but who are so totally clueless in how racist they really are. Renee Bess did an amazing job of showing vs telling, making the impact of that dichotomy more potent.
Candace is an easily dislikable character and maybe the only one who the author really didn’t go into what makes her tick. However, she’s kind of the catalyst for events that affect all the characters in both good and bad ways so maybe her being less explained was good.
I’d also like to point out that Renee Bess offers incredible insight into how we make judgments based on race and how our social upbringing affects our choices. Normally I’m not really for reading stories that are not clearly romance or suspense like this story is, however, Renee Bess totally sucked me in with her writing and her ability to articulate these issues and made me think about a lot about my own attitudes and what are the everyday experiences of African Americans and lesbians.
I think this author's writing is getting better and better. Will definitely pick up another of her books.
Heat level: 0
Grade: 5 Stars