The success of Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale sparked an interest in works by Black writers that rivaled literary movements of the 20s, 40s and 60s. While the literary impact of McMillan’s novel is still being debated, its economic impact is unquestioned. Since its publication in 1992, Waiting to Exhale has racked up more than 800,000 copies in hardcover sales; 1.75 million copies in paperback sales, including the movie-tie in release; $67 million in U.S. film grosses for the first film marketed specifically to African-American women; $14 million in film grosses outside the United States; seven million copies in movie soundtrack album sales; and uncounted audiotape, cable and video sales and rentals. Writers in all genres have acknowledged their debt to McMillan and her work.
In the publishing industry’s Exhale afterglow, a group of African-American men began writing their stories, insisting that their points-of-view and experiences needed voice. E. Lynn Harris, Omar Tyree, Eric Jerome Dickey, Van Whitfield, Michael Blaisden, Colin Channer and Marcus Major have become identified with what is often called “Brotherman fiction.” Bestselling author E. Lynn Harris has assembled a collection of four stories called Got to Be Real. Harris’ novella, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” is included with works by Channer, Dickey and Major. Got to Be Real is a raw and gritty collection of love stories that will appeal to the authors’ many fans and to those wishing to sample works by some of the decade’s most talked-about writers.
My favorite story in the collection is Colin Channer’s “I'm Still Waiting,” the story of music producer Michael Chin-See, a man wedged between the past and the present. Michael has returned to his native Jamaica for the first time since the mid-1970s. Professionally, the years have been kind to Michael. He was part of the glory years of reggae, spent time on the road with the legends, garnered a slew of advertising awards and is a much sought after producer. Personally, he is haunted by his past. A past that includes his ex-wife, Mia. The couple met as teenagers in Kingston. He was headed toward his dreams in music; she was headed toward a legal career and studies at Cambridge. They married in their late teens and grew apart when his music became a jealous mistress and class differences interfered. Though each has changed in 25 years, their relationship is unresolved. ”To face his future with assurance, he had to have permission from his past; for like an ancestor put to rest without honor, a past denied returns to haunt the soul.”
Channer’s story is as vibrant, exotic and insolent as reggae riffs. His writing is at its best in the poetic prose and descriptive passages he uses to create his portrait of Mia and in his natural use of Jamaican patois.
E. Lynn Harris’ “Money Can't Buy Me Love” is a story about the uncertainty of new relationships. It is the love story of college professor James Thornton, III and aspiring author Kenoy “Trevor” Cummings. “Jimmy” often moonlights as a waiter to help his best friend who owns a catering company. After helping with a Valentine’s Day party, the caterer sends Jimmy an extra special gift to cure his holiday loneliness. Trevor and Jimmy discover they have a lot in common as they discuss books, careers, music and films. Jimmy is smitten, but the relationship hits a snag when he discovers that Trevor is a male escort. He finds he cannot reconcile Trevor’s past and present into a foreseeable future with him. E. Lynn Harris has crafted a story about love, forgiveness, acceptance and vulnerability that is different yet very familiar.
“Kenya and Amir” is a somewhat lighthearted case study of love gone wrong. ”Kenya had told him in crystal-clear terms that it was over. No yelling or tears, either, at least not after the original cursing out. The next day she had called him over, sat him down, and coolly laid out what she found acceptable and not acceptable in a man and how he had fallen short.”
Kenya Wallace and Amir Moore met July 9, 1994 and fell in love. (Amir is the brother of Myles Moore, the main character in Major’s debut novel, Good Peoples.) Much of the story takes place on July 8, 1995 as Amir is trying to find a way back into Kenya’s life following an indiscretion. Amir’s lead goose explanation of why men cheat is instructive. Marcus Major gives us a story of love, possibilities, friendship and betrayal.
The last story, “Café Piel,” is actually the first story in the anthology. Bobby Davis and Alejandria Sanchez are involved in an adventure that leads them from California to Mexico and back again to recover a debt. It’s a so-so story that didn’t hold my interest like the others. This novella by Eric Jerome Dickey is rated a weak three while the others rate solid fours. The collection is rated a big capital R (that’s almost an NC-17) for language and some graphic scenes.