Reviewed by: Push Nevahda
Many hot summers ago, while working as a waiter in a Metro Detroit suburb, a co-worker and I stood in the distance of the customer-less restaurant, watching another openly gay waitress talking to her lover who’d sat at the bar to wait for the shift to end. Angela turned to me and said, “It’s like a dysfunction with them. It’s always about sex.” That 20 year old memory resurfaced for me while reading Dena Tyson’s new book, Black Beans N’ Rice.
Before I go into my rant on the thing about this book that irked me the most, let me quickly explain the book. Bianca is classy, independent, sophisticated, and her friends call her Binx. In the beginning of the book she flees an abuse relationship with an older cat named Spooney. She then gets involved with beauty-shop owner, Eason, who is so silky smooth he’ll remind you of the velvet-smooth, Five Heartbeats actor, Leon. Eason introduces Binx to Marijuana, they fall in love with each other, and he caters to her every whim. All the while, Spooney still has feelings for Binx and is on to her and Eason’s Oak Park love affair. Eason eventually plays out – he chooses cocaine over Binx, and she gets raped by Sweet, Eason’s partner in crime – and Spooney avenges her honor by cutting off Sweet’s dick. This makes Binx rethink her relationship with Spooney, rewarding his barbarian bravery by allowing him to take her out for a movie then back to her place for a lil gratuitous sex. But Binx doesn’t want Spooney. She meets Ellis, goes out with him, and screws him on her living room floor later that night. Tyson’s erotica is tender and passionate, and she turns up the heat in her gently constructed love scenes with…well…all 3 men. Anywho, while Ellis is boning Binx on the cold floor, Hershey, Binx’s best friend, who happens to be gay, is asleep in her bed.
This brings me to the issue that really bothered me about this otherwise wonderfully written book. Tyson’s characterization of Hershey disappointed me on many levels. Hershey is supposed to be Binx’s best friend, yet, she rarely spends any real, substantive moments with him. He should’ve had a more serious role. He is Binx’s guardian angel, but Tyson downplayed him, unwilling to explore the possibilities of his character, possibly because he is gay. This is where Tyson’s personal homophobia emerges - this textual inability to cope with the humanity of a gay man. Her gay scenarios are poorly constructed and written with the sensitivity of a Black Christian preacher…on a Sunday.
The reader is left to wonder, is this Tyson being covertly critical of gays and lesbians by refusing to execute a more humanistic gay character? Why is Hershey always in a sexual predicament? Is this what Tyson thinks about gay men and lesbian women, that they always have sex on their minds, a “dysfunction” as my co-worker once noted?
Aside from Hershey’s constant reference to sex and men, Tyson never reveals to us the possibility that gay men can experience the same kind of meaningful love, tenderness, and compassion that heterosexuals experience. In this sense, Hershey – a gay man – is left to defend his own dignity – against the more selfish and self centered intentions of his so-called best friend, Binx, who, although claiming to be Hershey’s best friend, only acknowledges this invisible friendship when she needs him to bring her back from the edge of self-destruction. Even when Binx insults his masculinity, and Tyson stereotypes him as an effeminately typical, loud-mouth, lip-smacking, sex-starved, faggot (who always seems to be sexually situated and/or lying in a bed), Hershey is left to defend himself and his humanity. In the end, it is Hershey (rather than Binx or Tyson) who teaches us the fundamentals of love and relationships (which none of the heterosexuals in her life could ever imagine or realize). In other words, Hershey saves Binx, but he saves Tyson and her story as well.
What did you like about the book?
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Reviewed by: The Pathfinder
Author Dena Tyson has written a wonderful yet, abusive story about love, pain, friendship, and finding one’s self despite the suffering, heartaches and other emotions that are sparked and triggered when one is involved in an abusive relationship. The only way out is to escape by any means necessary. You feel the pain and loneliness that will sometimes feed doubts into the mind of someone trying to escape from such a situation. Dena touches upon the tenderness, warmth, love, pain and horrors of what it takes to get through an abusive relationship.
Bianca also called Binx is the protagonist. The story revolves around her naivety, impressionable choices and decisions that she made at a rather young age. Unsure of her faith and what awaited her in life, a young Binx encounters Spooney an older man. Captivated by his maturity, and the manner in which he dealt with her, Binx fell head over heels in love with him. Soon thereafter, the control factor began along with the abuse. Unsure and afraid Binx confides in her gay friend, Hershey. Hershey was a constant in her life as she contemplated her next move. Hershey listened and advised her on what to do and what not to do concerning Spooney. After getting up the nerves and courage to walk away from Spooney, Binx encounters Eason. They immediately fall in love. Unbeknownst to Binx, Spooney finds out. Not one to give in rather easily Spooney made his rounds. Binx eventually tells Eason about Spooney but instead of being there for her, he chose his cocaine and his friend Sweets instead. Sweets would end up raping Binx, but love is bliss and despite the turmoil that he had put her through Binx reached out to Spooney who came to her rescue. Sweets was quickly taken care of.
Believing he now had a chance; Spooney was back in his comfort zone once again. Binx needed to let go and for an instant she fell into that old trap. She made love to Spooney with a lot of reservation and doubts. She knew what she did wasn’t the best thing to do. She questions not only her own motives but Spooney’s as well. Would he want her back? What if she told him she didn’t? Would he walk away and leave her alone? Would she ever find true love? Was there someone out there much closer to her age awaiting her? These were some of the questions Binx contemplated.
I loved how Dena intertwined her naivety and impressionable behavior throughout the story to display Binx’s remarkable maturity despite her young age as the story progressed. I loved how she used Binx, to dictate each characters role and how they were defined in the story. She didn’t allow any of the other characters to upstage Binx and vice versa. Binx was the initiator and in spite of her friendship with Hershey whom I thought was funny as hell (no pun intended) and Spooney’s stalking mentality she didn’t allow them to take away her hurt, pain, love and redemption when she needed it. This story is about walking away from an abusive situation and having the courage to do so. Kudos to you Dena Tyson, one of the better books I have read so far.
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