Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do
by Valerie Wilson Wesley
(Avon, $24.00, PG-13) ISBN 0380-97703-6
***
“There ain’t nothing I can or nothing I can say that folks don’t criticize me. But I’m going to do just as I want to anyway and don’t care if they all despise me. If I should take a notion to jump into the ocean, ain’t nobody’s business if I do...”

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do
-- Bessie Smith

On Friday, June 13 -- a few weeks after the tenth anniversary of his marriage to his second wife, Eva -- Lucas Hutchinson, Jr. left home. “There is no joy between us,” he declared as he walked out into the night. Eva was incredulous and in the days and later, weeks that followed, her emotions ranged from shock to denial, from anger to introspection, from fear to resignation.

“There is no joy between us”
Where had their joy gone?
“Damned if I know,” Eva said to the cat
and flicked the channel to CNN.”

Valerie Wilson Wesley fans may be somewhat taken aback to find a review of the author’s latest book here. Since 1994, Wesley has built a solid reputation as a mystery writer through her Tamara Hayle. My favorite and, in my opinion, her best mystery about the single mother and former Newark-area cop turned private investigator is When Death Comes Stealing, the first Tamara Hayle mystery.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do takes its title from the 1922 Bessie Smith song, popularized by Billie Holliday. The novel, Wesley’s hiatus from writing Tamara Hayle mysteries, is an intergenerational climacteric that warns us that we each have the ability to become our parents and our children, often within the confines of the same experience.

Each of the characters in Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do has “issues.” Eva Hutchinson is a 40-something would-be artist who works in a local library. “Hutch,” her husband of ten years, owns a construction firm he took over from his late father. Eva’s daughter Charley, whom Hutch has raised, is ready to forgo a “safe” marriage and law school to be a stand-up comedian. Steve, Hutch’s son from his first marriage, is gay and ready to come out of the closet to his father. Eva’s widowed father, Roscoe Lilton is involved with a woman his daughter does not approve of. Hutch has left Eva to temporarily move in with lawyer Donald Mason, his philandering best friend and his long-suffering wife, Raye.

When it becomes clear to Eva that Hutch may not return, she agrees to rent a room to Isaiah Lonesome, one of Charley’s ex-boyfriends. The landlord-tenant relationship between Eva and Isaiah evolves into a physical relationship. Hutch and Charley are appalled. Charley confronts her mother about her “inappropriate” liaison, Eva counters that “life is inappropriate” and tells her: “It’s really none of your business,” a mantra that each character picks up at some time during the novel. At some point, we learn how much our actions impact others and it really is their business on some level.

As I read the novel, I was struck by the feeling I had read bits and pieces parts of this story before. Of course, there is the older woman-younger man relationship. But I was most reminded of April Sinclair’s novel, I Left My Back Door Open, another Black Baby Boomer angst story with multiple issues and a title related to a blues song. TRR has reviewed the Sinclair book and I hope this is not the beginning of a trend.

Lucas leaves home to find joy -- only to discover it as a fragrance worn by another woman. Ironically, it is Eva who discovers joy from within. She begins work on her master’s degree in library science, takes a course in home improvement and begins repairing items around the house, resumes her art work, and stops smoking.

“She was most joyful these days when she was by herself-walking through the park and savoring the winter changes; jotting down random thoughts about her life in the journal she’d begun to keep; strolling through the museums she’d begun to visit on weekends. That way joy to her, allowing herself to be overwhelmed by beauty whenever she saw it.”

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do made me miss the no-nonsense Tamara Hayle. If you blink, you might miss the anonymous reference to her as “a great private investigator -- a smart young sister based in Newark.”

The novel is being promoted in some circles as a romance. Although there is a HEA, I wouldn’t call Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do a romance. At best, it is a very muddy relationship novel and a weak three-heart read.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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