With his new novel, E. Lynn Harris tries to add something fresh to his usual formula of lies, double-dealing, betrayal, and bisexuality. His fans needn't worry, for he does not forsake the trademark storytelling approach that has earned him a large readership and best-selling status. The difference in this book comes not from some major change in plot or locale, but in his witty, often hilarious exploration of the femme fatale, Yancey Harrington Braxton, who like the male lead, John "Basil" Henderson, is well known to readers of Harris's previous work. At a particularly troubling crossroads in his life, Basil meets Yancey and believes her love will chase away the demons of his bisexual past, aborted football career, and painful childhood. Yancey is everything he's ever wanted in a woman: beautiful, accomplished, and ambitious. Now working as a promising sports agent, Basil thinks marrying Yancey, a Broadway actress and Hollywood hopeful, would be the perfect complement to his successful life and the most effective antidote to remedy his sometimes feverish need to seek out male companionship. Confronting his sexual ambiguity with his therapist, Basil fails to consider the difference in the couple's view of love and family until it's almost too late. He wants kids but she does not. And that's only one of several key sticking points preventing total harmony between the pair as Yancey ruthlessly chases film and TV roles with a scorched earth campaign of deception, half-truths, and dogged persistence. Her verbal slugfests sprinkled throughout the book are utterly campy, over-the-top, and almost classic in their bitchiness.
Using his cagey instincts as a storyteller, Harris succeeds in keeping the central story of the mismatched couple going full-speed by adding the complications of their past loves into their rapidly unraveling romance. He delivers his riotous cautionary tale in his customary short, punchy chapters. If there is a drawback here, it is that Basil seems so good a guy that he's almost saintly, and the reader can't help but pull for his conniving fiance to get hers before the marriage vows are exchanged. On the other hand, Yancey provides the most sinister surprises when she schemes to win back her first love, Derrick Wayne Lewis, her sweetheart from her college days, while planning to use stolen session confessions to extort some much needed cash from her hubby-to-be shortly after their wedding. It's a diabolically wicked case of "get the loot and run."Whenever Yancey appears on the page, she immediately involves herself in some of the most outlandish stunts, whether it's passing a bogus check to a community center for HIV and drug addicted babies, party crashing in a scandalous low-cut dress, or a wacky shouting match with her befuddled agent over an imagined opportunity to land one of the coveted female leads in the HBO hit show, Sex and the City. By book's end, every score is settled, every question answered, but not without a great deal of zany mayhem, soul searching, and theatrical standoffs. Harris shows more emotional depth and versatility in this book than any of his other works, giving his readers a rich comic parable full of laughter and insights.
Robert Fleming is a journalist in New York.