a dead roseMoralizing Plus First-Person Narrative Make for a Questionable Reading Experience

A Dead Rose

by Rhonda M. Lawson
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Reviewed by: Michelle Bishop
September 2009


A Dead Rose by Rhonda M. Lawson seems to be the writer’s attempt to add to a growing genre of African-American literature with a message; however, the message almost gets lost in a heavy-handed, first-person narrative which the author disclaims in the Acknowledgments as not being autobiographical; however, the message may have come across more clearly and genuine had the novel been autobiographical in nature.

The protagonist begins Chapter 1 by over-explaining who she was at the time the story took place.  The reader learns on the first page that the protagonist is sexy, sleeps around, has had an abortion, and has suffered a broken heart – repeatedly.  Yet, she does not even reveal her name.  The reader finally is formally introduced to Isis when she, herself, tells the reader what people in her little town have to say about her, which is not fit to print in this review.  One almost has the impression that Lawson so dislikes her character that she is determined to make sure the reader does as well.  The opening of the novel does not help the reader to know Isis so much as to wonder when she will stop with the explanations and get on with the story.

Simply put, the story of Isis is a journey of self discovery.  Isis and her two best friends, Michelle and Kendra, live in a small military base town in Kentucky.  Isis works her way through the male personnel on base until she finally settles on one to marry.  Things don’t work out as Isis had hoped and she finally begins to break her poor relationship patterns.   
Unfortunately, a combination of self-conscious moralizing and shaky narrative ensure that the first two-thirds of A Dead Rose is virtually unreadable; yet, Lawson finally starts to get out of her own way when she shifts the focus a little from Isis and begins to address Kendra’s side-narrative.  Perhaps delving into Kendra’s sexual exploration makes Isis’ story easier to tell because Lawson can now allow Isis to pass judgment on her friend’s lifestyle rather than focusing so much own her own.  Isis seems to be freer as a living, breathing person once she starts thinking about other characters’ foibles rather than continually chastising herself. 

Ironically, despite Lawson’s repeated attempts to place Isis on the straight and narrow as a result of her relationship to God, a careful reading of the story reveals the real path to righteousness for Isis seems to be marriage.  Isis often tells the reader that she’s sleeping around and partying Saturday night and headed to church to sing in the choir on Sunday morning; so God clearly doesn’t move Isis to the real and lasting changes she claims that she seeks throughout the novel.  One would hope a woman could come into her own without a man being the catalyst in this day and age; however, Lawson shows the world, once again, that African-American women seek and need a man to make them happy and to give them a sense of self-worth.This may be the most sorrowful message in the novel. 

The final chapters of A Dead Rose do offer a measure of hope for Lawson as a writer as well as for lovers of stories about women on their journey of self-actualization.  Isis does come out stronger in the end.  She loses a great deal in order to find her strength, as must all women; but in the end, Isis finally starts to live up to her namesake just a little, leading the reader to inwardly smile that another woman has found a viable path through the jungle of life. 
 
What did you like best about this book?
The introduction of Kendra’s sexual dilemma shifted the focus just a little so Isis’ story could be told and the reader could finally start to care about her. 

What did you dislike about this book?
The constant moralizing about sex and sexuality reinforces unhealthy stereotypes about women and gays without raising intelligent questions or prompting discussion.

How could the author improve the book?
Lawson should have spent more time letting Isis’s story unfold so the reader can make some discoveries independent of Isis’s self-conscious explanations.  Fist person narrative may not have been the best approach to this particular story.  


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