The Hand I Fan With
by Tina McElroy Ansa
(Doubleday, Trade Paperback, $11.95, R)
ISBN: 0-385-47601-9
Lena and Herman are in love. It's truly a match made in heaven. He's a Cancer; she's a Scorpio. They both enjoy music, good food, the outdoors and each other. It's a May- December relationship, of sorts. Lena is 45; Herman is 140...and he's dead!

Tina McElroy Ansa takes us back to the middle Georgia town of Mulberry, the setting for her novels, Baby of the Family (1989) and Ugly Ways (1993).

The Hand I Fan With continues the story of Lena McPherson, the main character of Baby of the Family. Lena was "born with a veil over her face," a thin membrane which many believe makes her both lucky, clairvoyant and able to communicate with spirits. Baby of the Family followed Lena from birth through age 16 and the death of her grandmother. The Hand I Fan With begins several years after the deaths of her parents in a plane crash. Both her brothers died of heart attacks before their 40th birthdays.

Lena is 45, single and successful. "To many folks, Lena McPherson was Mulberry." She owns several businesses. Her good works are legendary. She is the hand the Mulberry townsfolk fan with because they depend upon her attention and largess. Lena has got it all: house, car, designer wardrobe. She's got everything -- but a man.

Desperate times call for desperate measures so Lena and her best friend half-heartedly attempt to perform a ritual. "It had been a ceremony to summon up a man for Lena. A wonderful man, a sexy man, a wise, a generous, spirited man, a smart man, a funny man, a loyal man, her man."

A week later Herman materializes. And, according to Lena, he gives "new meaning to the phrase `ghost of a man.'" Herman literally is the man of her dreams (and ours). He is a 140-year-old man who has his feet securely planted on terra firma, can fill out a pair of 501 jeans, enjoys life's simple pleasures and appreciates what Victoria's Secret has to offer. He cooks, cleans and doesn't leave the toilet seat up. He's a skillful and talented lover who "played her like a Stradivarius" and literally made her a certain part of her anatomy sing -- out loud and sometimes in public, with embarrassing consequences. But most importantly, Herman loves Lena unconditionally. "He acted like it was his job to make Lena happy."

It took a man who had been dead for a century to teach the living, breathing Lena how to get a life. "Herman rekindled her passion, unstopped its rush and gave it a number of new directions in which to flow. He did it with love. He did it with concern. He did it with wisdom. He did it with laughter. He did it with sex. And he did it with surprises."

The Hand I Fan With is a love story, an intensely erotic fantasy and the ultimate meditation for women who do too much. It is a lesson in living, loving and learning to let go.

The Hand I Fan With exists on several levels. Tina McElroy Ansa has issued a call for women to reclaim their spirituality, their sexuality and themselves. To stop micromanaging their lives and get on with the business of living. To come to grips with their own personal ghosts and to move on with their lives. To recognize the vast expanses of their power and the extent of their limitations. It is also a valentine to men who are loving, who encourage the best in their women and who are not threatened by her successes and her failures.

The novel unabashedly pays homage to the works Zora Neale Hurston -- particularly Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mules and Men -- through its use of language, humor, nature, music, imagery and the African-American experience in the South. The love scenes between Lena and Herman are tender, erotic, loving and often funny.

The paperback version of The Hand I Fan With includes a Reader's Companion for use by the growing number of book clubs and college courses discussing the novel. Ansa is the first contemporary African-American novelist to have a reader's companion published with her work. There is a letter from the author, an in-depth interview, discussion questions and a bibliography.

The Hand I Fan With is a must-read, a classic.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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