David Haynes, a novelist deserving of greater recognition, continues to examine the humor and irony to be found in the social and cultural institutions of African-American life. In his fifth novel, All American Dream Dolls, he provides a bold, striking glimpse of the fall and rise of Athena Deneen Wilkerson. Deneen is a top-flight ad exec with a seemingly perfect life, until everything derails after her beau Calvin confesses his growing attraction to men. This brutal admission occurs as the couple is headed to a long-awaited romantic getaway.
Surprisingly, Deneen survives the bitter outing and makes for the airport, feeling her heart is wounded beyond repair. She is teetering on the brink; her thoughts are unpredictable, dangerous, and manic. Where can she go before her imminent collapse? Deneen heads to her mother's home in St. Louis and the tarnished memories of her upbringing, finding unexpected comfort in the cocoon of the old familial homestead. To save her troubled soul, she has fled the city, the fat accounts and big money of her job for the healing power of her roots.
Haynes reports Deneen's slow unraveling with a sardonic clarity and honesty usually reserved for nonfiction, but even in these darkest nights of the spirit, there are wonderful moments of love, revelation, and discovery. His depiction of Deneen's mother avoids the customary stereotypes of the typical black matriarch by presenting a woman molded by the unsentimental tragedies and triumphs of her long life. She is not a woman of regret or complaint, and she assists her wounded adult-child in making the first steps toward recovery.
The most hilarious sections of the novel deal with Ciara, Deneen's younger sister in the All American Dream Dolls beauty pageant. Haynes turns the sham and pretense of the contests upside down, changing the entire affair into a crazed madcap romp worthy of anything Carl Reiner or Richard Pryor could have imagined. It's all here, the glitz, the tawdry publicity and promotions, and the zealous stage parents.
Laughs and chuckles aside, Haynes's All American Dream Dolls is a very sly satire poking fun at the basic elements of the highly popular girlfriend novels pioneered by Terri McMillan, while offering the flip side of how it feels to be a woman dealing with the contemporary issue of betrayal. Here, the author has converted many of the commercial themes found in the works of several leading African-American novelists into a lively, provocative story. And it's all great fun. What a witty, nutty movie this book would make!