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Give and Take by Anna Larence
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-017-4
***
"Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. Man say: got to change my life, I'm choking to death, baby! And his woman say -- Your eggs is getting cold!" "...Damn my eggs... damn all the eggs that ever was!"

–from Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun"

Yvette and Derrick Williams live "The American Dream." The Williamses are Black Baby Boomer poster children. Derrick is a mid-level executive with a national car rental firm. Yvette, a former full-figured model, is a buyer for string of boutiques for Rubenesque women.

Married eight years, their dual incomes have firmly entrenched them in the Black middle-class. Their education, careers, impressive suburban home, two cars, bright child and other trappings are visible signs of their success.

But there are snakes and crabgrass in their garden of Eden.

Yvette and Derrick agreed not to have another child until after he started his own business. It was a dream he had nurtured since high school when he opened a savings account with just $50. In the years that followed, he has amassed $75,000 in his personal "untouchable" account set aside to launch his business.

Without telling Derrick, Yvette has discontinued taking contraceptives and is pregnant with their second child. She makes the announcement one night after lovemaking. Yvette is overjoyed; Derrick is devastated.

Shortly thereafter, while Derrick is reviewing his bank statement, he discovers an $11,000 shortfall in his business account. Although they have joint accounts, Yvette has withdrawn more than 10 percent of the money it has taken him 20 years to save and then conveniently "forgot" to tell him. For what? A down payment on a new Volvo station wagon for herself ("I can't drive around with two babies in that small Honda.), a seven-day Alaskan cruise and new baby furniture. "The care, the furniture, the cruise...it was all for the family," she rationalizes.

Yvette just cannot understand why Derrick isn't overjoyed about the new baby and thinks he is being selfish and is overreacting about her withdrawal from his account. She tells her mother: "I decided we couldn't wait until he started his business, so I got off the pill and now we're pregnant."

After being passed over for a promotion for third time, Derrick begins to take a serious look at his personal and professional lives. He feels disrespected by a company he has served for fifteen years and is suffocating under the weight of his marriage to Yvette. Derrick decides to leave Yvette until his anger subsides and she is willing to make some hard decisions about her keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" lifestyle.

Can this marriage be saved?

Give and Take, Anna Larence's fourth novel, is a difficult book.

It is very easy to dislike Yvette. I did. She is manipulative, myopic, and clueless. But she does love Derrick. And, even stupid heroines sometimes need love. It is very easy to transfer a dislike for Yvette into a dislike for the book. In so doing, many of the positive lessons of the novel might be lost.

Beyond the story of Yvette and Derrick Williams is a very literal commentary about the love, respect, trust and communication needed to make a marriage work. Issues left unresolved during courtship may become larger issues during the marriage. Great sex is not always enough to keep things going. The "give and take" of a relationship are important keys to its survival. As Yvette's mother says: "...I heard a lot of 'I' statements in your last few sentences. 'I' should not be used in the context of marriage. You are in partnership with another person..."

Give and Take is also a story about the goals and values of Black Baby Boomers. Born within the first decade of the Civil Rights movement, Yvette and Derrick, are reflections of their parents' love, aspirations and struggles. It is interesting to note how the couple has interpreted (and sometimes misinterpreted) the examples and experiences of their parents who came of age in the Depression and post-World War II eras.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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