Love is a kind of warfare, Ovid wrote around 3 B.
C., and Good Peoples, the new novel by Marcus Major, is another in a two-millennia-long history of literary evidence. Rollicking, explicit at times, but deeply conservative at its core, the book is set in Lawndale, a tidy, mostly African-American and Hispanic neighborhood outside Philadelphia. Myles, a romantic and good-natured schoolteacher meets Marisa, a whip- smart and ambitious lawyer/media personality of Afro-Cuban descent at a party thrown by their mutual friend Jackie. Myles, celibate for the better part of a year, falls instantly in love, but Marisa is cautious, even a bit jaded, and the book follows the sometimes rackety course of their romance. On the sidelines cheering the couple on are Myles's smart-cracking brother Amir, Myles's friend Carlos, husband of the match-making Jackie, and Winston, Myles's adorably clueless bulldog. Winston is the perfect alter ego for Myles both are a bit fat, a bit rumpled, and so pantingly eager that the reader wants good things to happen for them both. Whether they'll happen for Myles with Marisa is the book's big question. Marisa is a more complex and contradictory character than Myles, capable of high hilarity and leaden seriousness, warmth and soul-withering coldness, sweetness and cruelty. ( Some-times, too often, you're not a man to me, she tells Myles during a particularly nasty argument). Orphaned early in life, she's both a driven career woman and a scared little girl who wanders into Myles's apartment in her pajamas looking for comfort. The consensus of her friends is that she's a lady who needs to be worked on subtly. When she inevitably splits in a huff, Myles is warned not to follow her. Give her a chance to miss you, advises Carlos, even as pregnant Jackie arrives at Marisa's house to warn her not to pass on the cuddlesome Myles. So persuasive and happily gravid is Jackie that you can almost hear someone whispering in the background, Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. One of the pleasures of the book is its snappy dialogue; the characters are articulate without seeming unnatural, and the sex scenes are erotic without being over the top. But as mentioned, the real message of Good Peoples is sometimes alarmingly retro. Sure, Marisa can have her career, but doesn't she really want to be a good little self-effacing wife and mother? Major is rather blunt on this point. Whoever heard of a woman who didn't want to get married? Myles yells at Marisa at one point. Whoever heard of a woman who didn't want to have children? Marisa's comeback is appropriately devastating. Still, the reader does wonder if this fiery and enigmatic Latina can be completely domesticated. We wonder if she'll weather marriage and motherhood with her identity and ambitions intact or disappear into what Sylvia Plath called the totalitarian state of airless wifedom. For that, the reader probably will have to wait for a sequel. Arlene McKanic is a reviewer in Jamaica, New York.