Zakiya Dalila Harris
Fiction, 2021 | 368 pages
I don’t appreciate it when an author writes a second story line and doesn’t ground it … keeps you guessing well into the second half of the book who s/he is writing about in the smaller story she is interweaving into the larger story. To me, this “clever” author trick makes me feel duped. I don’t know where to hang the information I am receiving from the sub-plot.
So, let’s go the main plot. Nella, a young Black woman, is an editorial assistant at Wagner, a major publishing house in New York City, and a second young Black woman, Hazel, is hired on. What happens in their relationship? Friends? Enemies? Are they out to help each other succeed or fail? Or, perhaps, does the relationship grow beyond the workplace, and effect their personal lives and fears? And why does Nella begin to receive anonymous notes, the first of which says “LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.”
Part mystery, part literature, part apparent tongue-in-cheek, especially about the care and styling of Black hair, Harris does a good job of developing Nella’s character. You can understand her, root for her, feel her pain and her challenges and her joys. Nella is the saving grace of this book, because otherwise it feels wooden and without depth.
I also felt talked down to. If you really have read nothing about being Black in this country (and are not yourself Black), especially since the murder of George Floyd, you may find Harris’ writing enlightening. If you HAVE been socially aware and conscious of injustice, you may find her descriptions of the experiences of these Black women to be a bit condescending. I did.
Spoiler alert: And ultimately, in the denouement, you will read that this book is actually about the betrayal of Black people by Black people. I cannot imagine who would find pleasure in reading this bizarre concoction. I cannot in good conscience recommend this book, whether you are white, Black, or a mystery reader. (Sorry, Scott Simon).