John “Basil” Henderson is a smooth, fine, chocolate brother who’s turned the head of Yancey Harrington Braxton or is it the other way around. Needless to say, they both come from dysfunctional families and are looking for love. Yancey is a beautiful, arrogant, highly competitive Broadway star, who spends money as if it’s water running freely from a faucet. Their love story seems to be unshakable and passionate until we as readers learn of Basil’s secret love for men. Basil is a man on the down low. What does on the down low mean? On the down low is an African-American expression used to describe men who identify as heterosexuals but that hide the fact that they also enjoy having sex with men. Could they be described as bisexual? Possibly. It’s also possible that they are men having difficulty fully accepting their homosexuality. As the story goes on, it’s obvious that it is very hard for Basil to squelch his desire for men and he partially uses his relationship with Yancey to do so. We also realize that Yancey is a perpetual liar and has a perplexing relationship with her mother Eva.
Not having read E. Lynn Harris before, I was pleasantly surprised. I felt his use of the narrator got to the crux of the ambiguous feelings that Basil was having about his sexuality. Basil’s narrator voice is very strong and precise. So much so that when there was narrating for Yancey, it seemed to be very neutral. I think this is done on purpose to make Basil a more sympathetic character and to express his feelings in an impressionable way. Harris’ hopeful writing style is inviting and very African-American culture based. It flows and is vivid. Some people may find this slightly isolating, but in essence it’s refreshing. I enjoyed his clever lines like, “Life is full of required courses; it’s the electives that are a bitch.” (Not A Day Goes By, p. 276) or “You didn’t eat all that, did you? Honey, you better watch it or your little narrow hips are going to spread faster than a rumor.” (Not A Day Goes By, p. 245) The characters’ names were maybe a bit over the top – Windsor, Zurich, Yancey… I was thinking who would have these names and do I know any African-Americans with names like these. All in all it’s a fast paced, light read with frequent plot twists. I give it three and a half stars. I can’t give it more because I think it went a little too fast and I would have also prefered a better ending because frankly it was a little predictable.
E. Lynn Harris died in 2009 at the age of 54. He was really known for portraying fairly affluent African-American gay men often tormented about hiding their homosexuality and leading double lives. Invisible Life is the trilogy that got him famous. In the beginning, he found no one who would publish Invisible Life so he published it himself and sold it in African-American owned bookshops, book clubs, and beauty salons. Finally, Anchor Books discovered him and published Invisible Life in 19994 and Harris’ career soared. Some of his other known novels are And This Too Shall Pass, A Love of My Own, Any Way the Wind Blows, Just As I Am, If This World Were Mine, I Say A Little Prayer, and many more. Two of his books were published posthumously – Mama Dearest(2009) and In My Father’s House (2010). I think the majority of his enthusiastic fans are African-American women, but anybody who likes reading a well-written story with twists, and is a little interested in African-American culture would easily become a fan. His writing really does transcend all groups of people. Harris is surely being missed in the literary world because of the fresh honest content of his novels about being gay and African-American. I’m sure I’ll read something else by Harris surely before the end of the year. Stay tuned….. If you’ve read Harris comment below and tell me which novel was your favorite and why? Happy reading….