Last summer, I read Nowhere to Run, Gay G. Gunn's historical novel about a gutsy slave woman who took a chance on a dream and found her "Forever Man." Earlier this year, I read Everlastin' Love, a more contemporary story that takes place between 1968 and 1985.
My reaction at the end of each novel was the same: "Wow!" Both stories are incredibly moving and I still cry in the same spots each time I read them. It is rare that an author, particularly a new author, can engage me on that level. Gay G. Gunn is a good writer and an excellent storyteller. Both books have prominent spots on my keeper shelf. They are still available and I strongly recommend them.
I have been looking forward to the release of Gunn's third novel, Pride and Joi. I wasn't disappointed.
Pride and Joi, is a contemporary romance set in Detroit. It takes its title from the names of the main characters, Joe Pride and Joi Martin. Motown singer Marvin Gaye's 1963 hit, "Pride and Joy," appropriately serves as the couple's unofficial love song. Pride and Joi is a story of caste, class and love.
Joi Martin is a 30-something waitress in a diner frequented by workers at a nearby Ford automotive plant. The diner is a popular place with good food, lively patrons and employees and lots of conversation.
Joi had to drop out of college after her cabdriver father was killed in a robbery. Her father was from a well-to-do New Orleans family that disowned him for marrying beneath him. Her
father's death was part of her "trilogy of terror." Her brother was a "Good Samaritan" killed trying to break up a fight. Her college sweetheart and fiancé was a star athlete who died of a heart attack on the basketball court at 21. Every man she has ever loved has left her.
Joi's life is not going according to her plans. She is on a mission to "marry well." Her mother has programmed her to want it all – college degrees, travel, a house in Detroit's trendy Sherwood Forest or Indian Village neighborhoods, security for herself and her children – and to marry for them.
But for now, Joi lives in an efficiency apartment, spending her nights with Lean Cuisine, Alex Trebek and "Jeopardy," waiting for "Mr. Right." "She knew she had to get her act together before she could attract a brother with an act of his own."
When factory supervisor Joe Pride comes into the diner, she immediately knows he's not the one.
"Ordinary Joe--plain, everyday, common Joe. Even his parents had no imagination."
"His father worked in the factory, he works in the factory and his children will work in the factory. Like I said, a nowhere guy going nowhere. Son of a man who was born to lose. Born losers. I want more for me and mine."
She rebuffs his gentlemanly overtures until the two are thrown together after a record blizzard hits the city. While Joe can never be Mr. Right, he can definitely be Mr. Right Now. He, of course, has other plans for their future and patiently executes them. But Joe has a secret that could keep them apart. And what will Joi do when Mr. Right does come along?
Joe and Joi are good to and good for each other. During his time with Joi, he expands his world, learns to cha-cha, develops his sculpture and jewelry making from a hobby to a business and learns the true meanings of raison d'etre and joie de vivre. Joi has cleaned her apartment, stopped smoking, learned to cook and begun to live and love again. Joe loves Joi with an intensity shown by very few heroes. (Only Galen Vachon, of Beverly Jenkins' Indigo, comes to mind.)
Gunn's novels alway engage readers on several levels. She is an excellent storyteller whose characters come to life on the page.
The dialogue is crisp. Her secondary characters play a very active role in the plot, but don't overpower the story. Hers are tales of uncompromising love between her main characters. They don't fall in love as much as they succumb to it.
Her novels are always musical, always lyrical. Pride and Joi has an excellent "soundtrack" that includes jazz, gospel, show tunes, old school, classical and R&B. Each song has a purpose in the action and readers become willing voyeurs. Vivaldi's "Summer Concerto" was the piece they had fallen asleep on the one time they went to the symphony. "All I Ask of You" by Barbra Streisand is from their first "real date" to see "Phantom of the Opera." There is a gospel favorite, "You're the Center of My Joy," Sarah Vaughan's "Someone to Watch Over Me," and Aretha Franklin's "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." There are more. Careful readers will even find Zack and Selena Fluellen from Everlastin' Love.
While Pride and Joi didn't end with a "Wow!," it left me with
an "Awwwww." I didn't bawl this time, but a few sniffles were heard. And while, TRR contributors and readers continue to debate his merits in verse, I'll agree with Ethel Waters who sang
in "Cabin in the Sky": "Happiness is just a man called Joe."