April Sinclair’s popular novels, Coffee’s Gonna Make You Black and Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, told the story of Jean “Stevie” Stevenson. I Left My Back Door Open is the tale of another alliterative heroine, Daphne “Dee Dee” Dupree.
“I am not young, or thin, or white or beautiful. I’m a slightly thick sista, but I know how to fix myself up. And I’m on the radio. My name is Daphne Dupree and I play the blues.”
Of course, Daphne is a little more complex than her first-person introduction indicates. Her life has blues riffs. She is scarred by incest, an abortion and marriage. (Her philandering ex-husband found it easier to cheat on a woman without a uterus.) She is plagued by painful memories and an occasional bout of bulimia. The 41-year-old, D-cupped Dee Dee is “built for comfort, not for speed.” She seeks solace from her cat Langston and behind the microphone at Chicago’s WLUV-FM, where she serves up music and folk wisdom as Dee Dee Joy on “Deep Dish Blues.”
As the novel begins she is forced to consider personal issues of ageism, sexism and racism when she is replaced by a “Jennifer” at an annual local fundraiser. But what she really wants is a man. Until that happens Dee Dee is content to be the ultimate super friend. It’s a good thing since the friends and acquaintances who populate this novel each have issues.
There’s Freddy who has abdicated from his race after being mugged by a couple of young Black thugs. Sharon has picked the middle of her daughter’s puberty to come out of the closet.
Jade is neglected by her successful workaholic husband. There is a Japanese businessman who likes to be spanked during sex. Tyeesha, her 15-year-old goddaughter is anxious to lose her virginity. Sarita is a heavy-handed disciplinarian. Sarita’s husband Phil is in the midst of a midlife crisis which propels him to hit on Dee Dee.
Then along comes Skylar Thompson. Skylar has been called in to mediate a sexual harassment complaint filed by Dee Dee’s co-worker. Of course, Skylar comes complete with his own issues. He is a divorced father of a bi-racial child whose mother is in rehab for substance abuse.
Initially, I wasn’t sure whether Skylar was Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now for Dee Dee. She’d warmed up to the idea of a new Black “suit” at the station before she’d actually met him. Once they did meet she was ready to forgo the preliminaries.
“...Why were we even having this conversation? Skylar and I should be strolling along the beach, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. It wasn’t every day that I felt physically attracted to someone. I needed juice, not sawdust. I needed a chocolate Superman, not Clark Kent.”
Dee Dee’s self-deprecating humor and first-person narrative carried the story for me. I also enjoyed glimpses of the Chicago I inhabit. As I mentioned, each of the characters grapple with their own set of issues. The secondary characters only pay scant attention to Dee Dee and Skylar’s relationship and rarely socialize with them.
As a result, I vacillated between a three-heart and four-heart rating. What appears above is where I was when it was time to push the “save” button which is not the strongest recommendation for a novel. (April Sinclair fans will probably have me drawn and quartered for such sacrilege, but it took me two readings to get there.)
I Left My Back Door Open takes its title from “Moanin’ Blues.” The novel refers to the Memphis Minnie McCoy version of a woman who leaves her back door open all night hoping her man will come home. As one character says, “All we all want is to be loved and to give love. That’s all we all want, black or white, gay or straight, Jew or gentile. That’s all we all want.”
I Left My Back Door Open is a story of hope among the myriad of personal blues...and all their shadings. It’s worth a look.