A Man Most Worthy
Wealthy, successful, 30-something John Sebastian appears to have it all – millions of dollars in the bank, a highly successful business, and a young girlfriend whom he can afford to set up in a townhouse. He even gives generously to charities, albeit for tax write-off purposes. So why does his life feel so empty? It is a question he is confronted by when he meets up with his former mentor, Mr. Duke. John idolized Mr. Duke during his troubled childhood and now the older man wants to know why John isn’t personally active in his old community and arranges for him to donate one hundred computers to a low-achieving school in Newark.
When Mr. Duke insists they visit the school, John gets the breath knocked out of him when he he discovers that his old flame, Josephine, the woman whose heart he broke in his quest for riches, teaches at the school. Suddenly he wants to be more than just a signature on a check and joins the Big-Brother-style mentoring program for the disadvantaged young boys at the school.
Josephine Prescott is a strong woman whose husband is an upwardly mobile-obsessed condescending bore who talks down to her and criticizes her constantly for her choice of job and her weight (she’s a size 16-18 and he thinks she ought to slim down to 125 pounds). However, she is doing her best to make her marriage and her stressful job work, despite the fact that she can’t seem to get pregnant and she was passed over as principal for a committee-ass-kissing toady more concerned with impressing her superiors than doing anything worthwhile at the school for the children themselves.
When she first lays eyes on John she is so shocked she decks him and splits his lip. He immediately meets up to discuss the situation with old friend Jules, who knew Josephine back in the day, and who used to date Josephine’s buddy Gloria, who is the best friend most of us wish we had in our corner. John’s sincere apology for his past behavior melts the ice (or at least chips it a little bit) and she is able to tolerate him more and more as the marriage she works so hard to preserve slides further and further out of her reach.
John seems to be everything Josephine wants in a man. Since she knew him when he didn’t have a dime to his name, and loved him anyway, he feels he can trust her. He is likewise appreciative of the present Josephine in a way her husband isn’t – he sees her extra weight as beautiful and truly relishes her voluptuous curves rather than trying to get her to slim down like some ‘skinny-ass white woman.’ He also sees that she is only eating because she is unhappy in her life and he does his best to be there for her. However they have many issues of trust and the past to work through before they can truly move forward.
Meanwhile Gloria and Jules have much unfinished business that gets closer and closer to confrontation as Gloria finds it hard to ignore her former love. A woman with a trail of loser-like lovers behind her, she hasn’t had a steady relationship since Jules left her life after she told him he wasn’t the man she was after in order to preserve her heart. She bitterly regrets her unwise decision and at first tries to avoid Jules because she is so ashamed of her past behavior.
This book offers a wealth of career and relationship issues, and as a European, I found the premise that a materially satisfying life isn’t the be-all and end-all striking in a story written by an American author. As we watch John make steps towards a more spiritually fulfilling life, the moral seems to be that the American dream might keep your body satisfied but it leaves a great void where your soul should be. Not only are the characters themselves very vivid and enjoyable – particularly Josephine’s rat husband Darren, who sinks to new lows in his desire to control his wife – but there areplot surprises that make this well-plotted book a quickly-moving book as well. And the banter the characters engage in had me laughing out loud several times, although those who aren’t fans of “colorful language” might find it excessive here.
While a very good read, it isn’t a book that will rank alongside those by other great contemporary African American authors (such as Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale) because of a lack of depth that the humor could not conceal. In essence the book misleads; rather than the story of John’s struggle to get in touch with his spiritual side, which I expected, the focus was mroe on his relationship with Josephine and hers with her husband. The reader never sees his work in his mentoring program despite the fact that this is supposed to be the key to his transformation, and Josephine’s quick acceptance of his excuse for his past behavior during their former relationship seemed too pat. As such, John’s big character turnaround occurs behind the scenes and he suddenly morphs into St. Bigshot instead of just plain Mr Bigshot.
Despite the theme of money not being everything, John doesn’t seem to let up on the materialistic lifestyle he enjoys, and we seem to be told that a happy love life is the cure to spiritual ills. The scenes showcasing John’s heartrendingly romantic side are ruined by the sex scenes which feature ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ type dirty talk that leave a bad taste. And his sanctimonious speeches about life and love, as it says in the book, are what “Mr T would call ‘jibber-jabber.'”
While the major life issues presented early on are addresses at a more superficial level than I’d have liked, what is addressed is mostly very well done. The good definitely outweighs the bad. A Man Most Worthy provides lots of laughter and leaves you with a light-hearted feeling at the end. This one’s definitely worth a read.