Soulful Strut tells the tale of a woman wrongly imprisoned for many years who is now free after someone vouched for her innocence. Although it should have been an interesting story to match the cool title, the book’s very slow pacing drained away my interest.
Monette never expected to leave prison. Fifteen years ago, the irresponsible party girl had a secret affair with the district attorney. When she dumped him, he didn’t take it well and successfully prosecuted her, manufacturing drug possession charges. No one believed in her innocence, but then his chief investigator, who was also the key witness, revealed her allegations were true after all. Now Monette is free on parole and has a chance for a pardon, while her former lover, who became the state’s attorney general, resigns under the scandal.
At the halfway house where she will spend her parole, Monette meets Jayson, the owner of a nearby auto repair shop. Usually the muscular entrepreneur is just polite to the house’s residents, but this time he takes more than one look at Monette. She’s attracted to him, too, but her interest dampens when she finds out he’s clean-cut and respectable. She can’t imagine that a woman like her, with her much rougher background, would interest him. Besides, her plate is full – the sensational news story made a celebrity of her and earned her a lucrative two-book deal (one is already in bookstores and she’s now writing the second one) and an offer to host her own radio talk show. She also has to contend with jealous ex-con roommates and gear up for her pardon hearing. Still, she can’t help but notice the way he smiles at her and doesn’t resist when he slowly starts to court her.
The focus of this book is on Monette and her efforts to transition to life outside of prison. Although she never broke the law before, she clearly led a life that made people believed she was capable of selling drugs. She’s aware she made many bad choices in the past and is determined to build a new life for herself. She never wants to risk going to prison again as she did for those 15 long years.
At first, it doesn’t make sense to me that Jayson wants Monette. He’s college educated, hard working, law abiding, and seems to be looking for the kind of woman that one would be proud to take home to the family. In fact, he married a beautiful, college educated woman, but they’ve been divorced for five years and share custody of their daughter. But Jayson admires Monette for being a survivor and believes she will be a big success. And he enjoys her company.
Two things really made an impression on me. Monette knows that she wasn’t there when her children were growing up and that she lost the respect of her eldest child, who saw much of her irresponsible moments as a mother, yet Monette doesn’t torture herself endlessly for her failures. She tries to move on and lead a better life. In a vast field of romances strewn with angst-ridden protagonists, it’s refreshing to find one who gracefully bears her personal losses and who doesn’t lash out at people because of their pain. The other is, while Monette thinks that her and Jayson’s backgrounds already represent the opposite ends of African-American society, she gets an even bigger shock when she, a hard-core liberal, finds out that he’s a passionate conservative. Their ensuing political discussions certainly throw sparks.
But unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy much of anything else because of the book’s noticeably sluggish pace. There is hardly any momentum, and if this weren’t a review book, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it. Author Emery has a very spare writing style, which is effective in poignant moments but deadly in more exciting ones. And for all the pages and pages devoted to Monette and Jayson, they both remain aloof characters. I never saw much depth behind their feelings and actions. And, I would certainly have cared for an explanation for some of their feelings and actions. Monette seems surprisingly unaffected by her long years in prison and, for someone with very little formal education, she seems to be writing a full-length book and interviewing people on her radio show with almost effortless ease. And why doesn’t Jayson, Mr. Strait-laced, think it’s a big deal to pursue a serious relationship with a once incarcerated woman?
In the end, Soulful Strut, even with its decent and interesting characters, disappointed me. It was a nice story hampered by a plodding pace.