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Between a Yearning for Love and Attraction for Lust!
on 20 September 2001
Before reviewing this powerful novel, let me caution potential readers that this book contains very explicit sex and violence, extremely foul language, and explores the gamier side of the club and dating life. If such things offend you, consider another novel.
The book's theme is that we are torn between wanting true love (to be loved for ourselves) and our desire to enjoy the maximum pleasure from the opposite sex. This theme is reinforced by childhood experiences, observing family and friends, and following our own emotions in social settings. The book goes on to raise the important question of how we move beyond that to get the mature love that we truly want.
A major subtheme looks in a similar way at the nature of friendship. Is a friend someone who makes you feel like you're in charge, or someone you care about and who cares about you?
The book develops primarily from the perspectives of Stephan Mitchell, a man who loves to keep a large number of women on the string, and Chante Ellis, who is in love with falling in love . . . and keeps finding herself with exploitive bums. Each of them comes to question their primary way of dating and relating to the opposite sex, their friends, and finding lasting companionship.
The book also chronicles the experiences of their married and unmarried friends who struggle with variations on the same issues. It's like a jazz piece that contains many versions of the main melody reconstructed throughout on different instruments.
The book's main appeal is that it holds out hope that we can improve ourselves, change our behavior, and acquire the love we want. In essence, we get the love we deserve except from our family. I found it very moving that Mr. Dickey chose some pretty pathetic hedonists as his characters. In the beginning, these are the anti-heroes, but they mature and move towards being loving adults.
Now, all of this could come across in a very heavy, moralistic way. But Mr. Dickey has a light touch, and colors his points with careful exaggeration and humor to make the lessons easier to swallow. Stephen Mitchell's last visit to Toyomi's home in Palm Springs and Chante's last date with Michael are both excellent examples of this.
The character development in the novel is outstanding. You will feel like you know each character quite well, probably better than their lovers and potential lovers do.
Mr. Dickey has an astonishing ear for dialogue. You can feel yourself in almost every scene because the dialogue is so realistic.
Having lived in San Bernardino while I was growing up, I especially enjoyed the many descriptions of the towns and freeways around the Inland Empire. I think I even picked up on a few better routes for avoiding traffic.
Since the characters are African Americans, some potential readers may want to arbitrarily assign this novel to some sub-genre concerning African American culture. That would be a mistake. It would be like thinking of Romeo and Juliet as a soap opera. Regardless of your connection to or interest in contemporary African American culture, you will identify with and enjoy reading about these characters.
After you have enjoyed this superb novel, you should use it as a mirror to think about the ways that you show and provide love and friendship in your life. How could you improve? How could you connect these changes to your spiritual beliefs?
Give the love and friendship that you would like to have.