A Pair Like No Otha'
A Pair Like No Otha’ is one of those books that’s really hard to grade. There were several things that I really liked about it, but there were several other elements that kept me from enjoyint it as much as I could have.
Shemone Waters and Darnell Williams were good friends in high school, but in the ten years since, their lives have been on opposite paths. Shemone’s now a wildly successful magazine columnist, while Darnell is finishing a prison sentence for drug dealing. After losing touch, Shemone and Darnell reconnected after the death of a mutual friend a year before, and now that he’s out of prison, Darnell wants a new start with Shemone. Shemone’s not so sure she has time for both love and her career, and she’s worried that Darnell will go back to the streets, but the two quickly become inseparable.
That may be the major problem of the book: Shemone and Darnell get together so early in the story that there’s not a whole lot for them to do to sustain the dramatic tension other than argue. And frankly, neither one comes off well in their arguments. With some reason, Darnell accuses Shemone of being a control freak, and Shemone has little patience with Darnell’s machismo. The two resort to playing some very silly little games that will likely turn off some romance readers. Shemone and Darnell’s bickering contrasts sharply with the behavior of their friend Ohija and her husband Raymond, who find themselves faced with a terrifying health crisis at what should be the happiest time of their lives. Ohija and Raymond are kind, likable people who treat each other with love and respect, and I found I liked them a great deal more than the main characters.
I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about Shemone and Darnell. Readers who found Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones too incompetent may like the fact that Shemone seems to be perfect at everything she does – perfect job, perfect apartment, perfect body – but I found it a little off-putting and an odd contrast with her behavior toward Darnell, which is sometimes immature. Shemone has some tensions with her mother that make for an interesting and well-written subplot; Hayes doesn’t shy away from showing the mistakes both mother and daughter have made while making both understandable figures. And Shemone’s columns serve to comment on the action and her feelings.
I have to give Hayes credit for taking the risky choice of having Darnell be a former drug dealer rather than in prison for something more usual in fiction, such as a bar fight gone wrong. Darnell’s eagerness to build a new life for himself is admirable, but his decision to change has mostly taken place by the time we meet him, which makes it less affecting to the reader. Darnell has a lot of charm which he sometimes coasts on; I didn’t feel that I knew very much about his mind’s inner workings.
Hayes’ breezy writing moves quickly and easily; I thought this was a surprisingly quick read for a book of its length. The subplots tie in together nicely, and in fact I enjoyed the subplots more than the main storyline.
Perhaps some of my ambivalence comes from the fact that I’m not exactly sure what A Pair Like No Otha’ is supposed to be. The spine says it’s fiction, but the title, cover, and back blurb all indicate a romance. I think you’ll probably enjoy the book more if you look on it as fiction instead of romance. For some similar themes with a more polished execution, I’d recommend checking out What Looks Like Crazy On an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage.