Book Review: “They Tell Me Of A Home” by Daniel Black
I haven’t written a book review in ages but I felt like I needed to say a few words about this novel I just finished yesterday. Not because I loved, but because I hated it. This book is only the 3rd book I’ve EVER given one lonely ass star to on my Goodreads account, which I’ve had for two years. It was a laborious and frustrating read. I haven’t suffered so much through an entire book since I read “The Help” last year. Let me break it down:
“They Tell Me Of a Home” is a story about a young Black man, Thomas Lee “T.L.” Tyson returning to his small Arkansas town after being gone for ten years. He left to go out into the big world and get a college education and to escape a suffocating and abusive childhood. While T.L. was gone, he didn’t have ANY contact with his family and friends back home in Swamp Creek, Arkansas, save one letter to his baby sister Cynthia, whom they all called “Sista”. Sista was his best friend growing up and he made her swear not to tell anybody about his letter to her.
When we met T.L. he has just earned a doctorate degree in Black Studies and is hopping off the Greyhound bus on the edge of town to go see what’s going on with his family and “find himself”. T.L. arrives home to his cold and distant mother, his older brother Willie James, the family workhorse, his steely and emotionally unavailable father. Sista is dead and buried in the backyard and nobody seems to know how she died, or so they say. It ALL goes downhill from there.
I’m not going to give away any spoilers here, just in case somebody wants to waste a few hours finding out what the hell happens to these crazy ass people, but let me tell y’all what I found SO DAMN problematic with this story:
The overly ornate language drove me up the proverbial wall. This language was like looking at gaudy Christmas tree from 1975. The flowery prose detracted HEAVILY from the story. Just because you can FIND that many words in your damn thesaurus doesn’t mean you have to USE THEM ALL. Mr.Black’s thesaurus has to be tattered, worn and hanging on by a thread at this point. I felt like he was trying to prove to anybody and everybody how smart he is. That also would explain the excessive name-dropping of Great Black Authors. The way he talked about the Literary Luminaries of the African-American Canon you’d think he himself sprung forth fully formed from the Harlem Renaissance. It was irritating and embarrassing in the same way your friend that takes tickets at the 9:30 Club thinks they’re personal friends with every artist that headlines there and can’t stop talking about them like they know them for real. Ugh.
This story was extremely MELODRAMATIC. Mr.Black had T.L. and everybody else in Swamp Creek doing more whoopin’/hollerin’/pacing/crying/collapsing/screaming/shouting/rolling around in the dirt than the law should allow. Not even going through the stuff that they went through does anybody do that in real life! That brings me to my biggest point of contention with this novel…
This story read as WHOLLY inauthentic because T.L. was clearly a gay Black man but Mr. Black couldn’t be bothered to write him as such. I wasn’t through the first chapter before my Gaydar went off. I kept expecting T.L. to “come out” at some point but it never happened. BUT IT NEEDED TO!! I mean damn…his relationship with his best friend George was CLEARLY one of partners. Straight men don’t talk to each other like that and write what amount to love letters to each other. T.L. was given ONE scene with a woman, after an alleged sexual encounter (because I still don’t believe they did it) and you know what that turned into? That turned into a 10 (Kindle) page discussion on Feminism from what I can ONLY attribute to a gay man! I can’t believe that heterosexual person would say that “If men could bear children, men would chose to procreate with other men because they prefer to deal with their homies instead of the shit they go through to be with women.” Nah, son. You can’t tell me T.L. was straight. And T.L.’s “almost gay” experience in college. Boy, bye. I know gay when I READ GAY. He even spent several pages describing a dream T.L. had in which a male monster and a female monster battled it out for his soul! WHAT??? I felt insulted by that character because if Mr.Black wanted some DRAMA (which he CLEARLY did), making T.L. gay (or at least questioning) would have been perfect and made the story a lot more believable. But he didn’t, so I spent 3 days last week cussin’ at my Kindle as I read the book. This book seems to have served as nothing more as a platform for Mr.Black to work out his issues he has with Black folks’ basic issues: religion, family, homosexuality and the church.
Man, write another kinda book for all that. I’m not checking for your soapbox soliloquies in the middle of a “novel”.
I will give Mr.Black full credit for this: He has a MASTERFUL grasp of the skill it takes to write Black American Southern vernacular and dialect. He did an impeccable job at that and I appreciate it. I hate when writers try that and get it wrong. It feels insulting. He also did a good job at resolution, but even that came off as more of his preachy, Go-Tell-It-On-The-Gay-Ass-Mountain, Chile, Lissen To Yo’ Mama life lessons. And they were administered from yet ANOTHER character who should’ve been gay.
My Book Buddy Nakia of ZoraTonyMaya.tumblr.com said she gave the book 2 stars on Goodreads because the author is Black. Hell no. He gets ONE STAR for simply having the gumption to write a book. Other than that, I ain’t got nothin’ for Daniel Black. That’s including time to read anymore of his books.