Two Books, One Opinion

By Annie Tobey | July 14th, 2021

You might enjoy ‘Black Sheep’ and ‘Sex: A Love Story’ more than I did


Black Sheep: Cover of 'A blue-eyed negro speaks of abandonment, belonging, racism, and redemption, by Ray

When I read movie reviews, I might disagree with the reviewer, even if I haven’t seen the movie. My consensus or lack thereof depends upon where the reviewer finds fault or heaps praise. Same with restaurants, products, and books. In that spirit, I present to you two books I couldn’t finish, but they could appeal to someone else.

Black Sheep: A Blue-Eyed Negro Speaks of Abandonment, Belonging, Racism, and Redemption

In his memoir, Ray “Ben” Studevant offers his story as a biracial boy growing up in Washington, D.C. He was abandoned by his birth parents, a White, heroin-addicted mother and a Black alcoholic father. He was instead raised by his paternal uncle, Calvin, and Calvin’s wife, Lemell. Unfortunately, Lemell herself dealt with deep emotional scars from her upbringing in the segregated South, and Studevant looked more White than Black, with pale skin and blue eyes. Lemell loved him, or tried to – imperfectly.

As the book’s press release explains, the book tells of the author’s

struggles as a mixed-race boy as he learns to fight the ghosts of his past to find trust and love … Lemell does her best to keep him on the straight and narrow as he navigates the social minefield of living in the Blackest part of the Blackest city in America during a time of notorious racial tension. As Ray learns the hard way, there are guidelines if you are Black, different rules if you are White, but only confusing messages for mixed-race children who must fight for acceptance as they struggle to find their identity – long into adulthood.

I was taken by the description, but I couldn’t make it past the fourth chapter (of 19).

The book begins as Studevant visits his mother, Lemell, in the nursing home, where she is because of her Alzheimer’s. He’s still struggling for acceptance, made more difficult now because of her memory problems. His tale wanders back to the past, to his first years with his addicted mother, to the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother, to Calvin and his unwilling wife trying to get custody of “Ben” – “Blue Eyed Negro.”

The travails of the young boy are intense. This makes for a painful read, but certainly realistic. The narrator seems to attempt to paint Lemell as a sympathetic character, but I have great difficulty feeling any sympathy for her – in her dealings with the young boy or the grown man. It seems that Ray Studevant is still trying to make this woman love her, that he still needs her approval.

My bigger difficulty in reading the book, however, is the point of view: even when events are told from the point of view of the young boy, they are infused with adult wisdom. This makes for a jarring disconnect, challenging in my attempt to stay engaged.

I still appreciate the stated intent of this book: “Black Sheep takes readers on an emotional journey and reveals universal truths through faith and great humor. It is a search for who we are, where we fit and who we can become.” And “This unforgettable memoir reveals universal truths through faith and great humor. It is a search for who we are, where we fit, and who we can become. It shows us what is possible when we trust our hearts and follow a path of love.”

I hope to return to the book, perhaps tackle it a chapter at a time. But in the meantime, I want to share my review, knowing that even what I found difficult may appeal to someone else. The story and its premise hold much promise.

Black Sheep: A Blue-Eyed Negro Speaks of Abandonment, Belonging, Racism, and Redemption
Ray “Ben” Studevant
Health Communcations, Inc.
May 2021

The second of two books I couldn’t finish:

Sex: A Love Story

I’m not a prude. Well, maybe I am. I requested the book for review, knowing the title and the description. As the cover letter explained:

Riddled with angst and adolescent self-doubt, teen lovers who use physical intimacy as a way of affirming their adulthood and establishing their individuality are at the center of Jerome Gold’s compelling new book, Sex, A Love Story. Set in the early ’60s, Gold’s coming-of-age tale is blushingly candid, and The Midwest Book Review calls it “a warm story that will engage any reader interested in how relationships grow, change, and eventually move from couple-oriented visions to embrace the possibilities of the world.”

“Blushingly candid” should have been a tip-off. But I only made it 50 pages in before I’d had enough descriptions of teenage sex.

The novel follows Bob and Jen, high school seniors who jump quickly into a sexual relationship. Their relations seemed more mechanical, more exploratory, rather than emotional. Sure, it’s a coming-of-age book and the protagonists are, by definition, young. But I’m not comfortable reading about the sexual antics of minors, even a consensual relationship between teens.

I was drawn to the book by the early ’60s setting, the coming-of-age angle, and the stated themes of feminism, choices, and personal growth. “I regard this book as a ‘pre-feminist’ novel, in that many of the issues that feminists were only beginning to be concerned with during the period of this story are addressed by Jen and Bob, though often obliquely and in ignorance of the wider currents beginning to sweep America,” explained the author in the book’s press release.

The press release continues:

While sex with Jen and his growing love for her are immeasurably important to Bob, so is his desire to write and travel, “to learn how the world works.” Jen and that imagined life become rivals, nudging Bob toward an ultimatum: choose his dream or his love for Jen, who grows into a much more complex character as their journey unfolds, and certainly a more tragic one.

If this description appeals to you and you’re more in the mood for a sex story than I was, give it a try.

Of these two books I couldn’t finish, one or both might just be for you.

Sex: A Love Story
By Jerome Gold
Black Heron Press
April 2021

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