The Nicest Guy in America
by Angela Benson
(Thorndike Press, $25.95, PG) ISBN: 0-7862-1461-9
****
Why do women who are "waiting to exhale" blow off good guys who come their way? In short, why do nice guys finish last? Angela Benson explores the complexities of male-female relationships in The Nicest Guy in America.

Reggie Stevens, a good guy with bad timing, was introduced as a secondary character in Angela Benson's first novel, Bands of Gold. Despite a valiant effort, Reggie was nosed out in the final lap of the race for Christina Morrow's affections by Jackson Duncan.

Reggie has left Oklahoma City for Atlanta. When The Nicest Guy in America begins, he has been dumped by a woman he's dated for six months. She has gone back to the man who stole her TV, stereo and artwork and gutted her bank account!

Meanwhile in New York, the publisher of Urban Style Magazine has picked up on the rant of a male employee who says "women really don't want a nice guy." The opportunistic publisher decides the magazine will run an article to be called "Why Nice Guys Get Dumped" in conjunction with a nationwide contest, "The Nicest Guy in America." Readers are encouraged to submit the names of men they've dumped the "nice guys" who didn't quite make the cut.

Guess who is nominated not once, but six times by women in different parts of the country, including Christina Morrow Duncan?

When Kimberla Washington, the editor assigned to the project, sees Reggie's photograph she's intrigued. He is a drop-dead gorgeous, single, successful BMW (Black man working) who owns his own home. "He seems like such a nice guy. I wonder what's wrong with him." A friend surmises: "If he's been nominated this many times, just think how many times he must have been dumped. What do you think? Sixty?"

The who, what, where, when, why and how are enough to get Kim on the phone to get an interview with Reggie. He's just been dumped again and flatly refuses to be interviewed for the article. Instead, he fires off an op-ed piece to the local paper: "Double-Minded Women and their Two-Timing Men." Reggie's article attracts a lot of attention and becomes a topic for debate on Tom Joyner's nationally syndicated radio show. Kim's journalistic instincts and ingenuity kick into overdrive. She hightails it to Atlanta to get Reggie's story only to find reporters and proposal-bearing women staked out on his front lawn. She will not be denied.

When Kim and Reggie eventually meet, her initial impression of him and their differing views on the state of male-female relationships create sparks and a big misunderstanding. Reggie is attracted to Kim, but she wants nothing to do with him. He's determined not to come in last this time.

The Nicest Guy in America offers some interesting insights on dating and relationships in the 90s. Kim, Reggie and their friends represent a myriad of real-life experiences. Angela Benson has once again put together a strong cast of supporting characters who step up with an assist for the main characters. Band of Gold readers will be happy to learn what became of Jackson and Christina Duncan and to be reacquainted with Reggie's parents. His two younger siblings phone in advice for their oft-dumped big brother. And, as always, Benson includes real-life reference points for her readers.

While The Nicest Guy in America doesn't offer a definitive answer for why nice guys often finish last, it's an engaging story about how one nice guy solved his problem.

Note:

The Nicest Guy in America was first released by Arabesque in October 1997. Thorndike Press has reissued it in a hardbound, large-type version, making it available to a wider audience. Copies of Arabesque's small-type, paperback version are also still available.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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