Friday, May 18, 2012

Son Of A Preacherman May Not Sweet Talk You

Romance is a predictable genre. It promises a happily ever after.  And why not?  Life is not full of happy endings –so why shouldn’t we enjoy the occasional feel-good moment after closing a book?

Marlene Banks’ novel Son of a Preacherman follows the faith-based romance template but with an encouraging difference.  Banks’ main characters are African Americans dealing with prejudice in the city of Tulsa, circa 1920s, a few months prior to a devastating race riot.

Romance novels don’t cause my heart to flutter, but I have, on occasion, been drawn into a good history-driven affair of the heart story, where history isn’t the background, it’s the main character.

That is what I was hoping for in Son of a Preacherman.  However, although Banks’ touched on the simmering powder keg that was Tulsa post WWI, the race riot and the events that let up to it, was merely the impetus that thrust the main love interests, Bennie and Billy Ray, into each other’s arms.

When Banks’ gives us glimpses into the affluent African American culture that was the Greenwood district of Tulsa, it is fascinating.  Also known as Negro Wall Street, Greenwood was the most affluent African American neighbor in the United States.

Its wealth and prosperity rubbed some members of the white community the wrong way, and when news of a perceived assault of a teenage white girl by a young African American made it’s way into that community, that was all it took to light the fuse that blew the top off the anger seething in the hearts of white Tulsa.

Now the history of that time and place was where I wanted to linger.  I wanted to know more about that young black shoeshine boy who was accused of assault, even if it would have been fictionalized backstory.  I wanted to know more about the whites and blacks who fought in the riot.  But instead they were minimized as side issues.

The subplot of Billy Ray’s former girlfriend, and the troubled marriage of Bennie’s brother Cordell and his floozy wife Savannah were the most intriguing aspects of the book, adding some tension to the predictability of the storyline.

Son of a Preacherman is a romance, pure and simple.  Not meant to be meaty or thought provoking – just boy meets girl, in another time and place.   If that’s what you enjoy, you will embrace this novel. 

In her latest novel, Banks delivered what romances are supposed to – a swept-off her-feet damsel in distress.  Although I am delighted African Americans are the central characters, not some best friends or background characters, I was hoping for a bit more.

Aretha Franklin sang, “The only man who could ever reach me was the son of a preacherman.”  Banks’ Son of a Preacherman will more than likely reach lovers of this genre, but for those who like a little more depth in their love stories this Son of a Preacherman may not sweet talk you.

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