Moralizing Plus First-Person Narrative Make for a Questionable Reading Experience
A Dead Rose
by Rhonda M. Lawson
Reviewed by: Michelle Bishop
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.
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.
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