When Gregory Alston proposes to Adrian, his girlfriend of three years, he thinks it's the last chapter of the story, like the happy ending of a fairy tale. But his troubles are just beginning. What with the wedding preparations, his churchy sister Shreese's unsettling new love affair, and the feelings stirred by the return of his jazz singer mother from her long residence in France, Greg doesn't seem to see much of his fiancée anymore. And for some reason, she isn't complaining. When All Hell Breaks Loose
is a fast, fun novel written in a light, conversational style, a good introduction to the new black fiction for readers who might otherwise be looking to television or movies for engaging, three-dimensional images of young African Americans. Alston's male friends--from the dread-wearing Jamal to the foul-mouthed Phil and the woman-hating player Tim--are especially well drawn, and Greg's conflicted emotions about his mother, who abandoned the family to pursue her musical career, will strike home for anyone who knows a wounded young man. "I don't know," Greg muses,
Sometimes I think that because I got my degree and ain't slangin' drugs or laid up with children all over the city calling me Daddy, all the hurt and damage I felt as a boy just aren't there. But every time I come across a situation where a mother is not in her child's everyday life or am faced with my own personal dilemma with my mother, I just want to start running. Running so fast, until the wind can no longer get to my lungs quick enough to keep me standing.
Camika Spencer's fledgling effort was originally self-published, then picked up by a major publisher when the buzz reached New York. It still needs a little editing, and there are no great lessons in the book--nothing in Greg's past could have prepared him for the betrayal in his future, just as the betrayal can't teach him anything worth knowing. But the quick pace and lively characterization show the author's promise. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
A young black man's family, friends and future are at the center of Spencer's thin contemporary debut novel. After three years of dating, Dallas hairdresser Adrian Jenkins agrees to marry Gregory Alston, a successful computer consultant. Narrator Gregory shares his good fortune with his church-going younger sister, Shreese, and his father, Adolphus, who raised Greg and Shreese alone, after his wife, Louise, left the family years ago to pursue her jazz career in Europe. Upon hearing the news, Louise returns immediately to the U.S., taking up residence in her former home and rekindling her relationship with Adolphus. While reacquainting himself with his mother, Greg also watches the developing relationship between Shreese and the Reverend Ulan Dixon, a slick and suspect preacher. Though Greg resents the way his mother abandoned the family, his anger begins to fade as he begins to understand her motivation. Meanwhile, Greg's relationship with Adrian deteriorates when Adrian's maid of honor, Carla Perrone, arrives in town. Carla begins to date Greg's best friend Tim, which bothers Adrian in a way Greg can't understand. The novel climaxes with two simultaneous crises, in which Dixon pulls off a cruel swindle and Greg makes a shocking discovery about Adrian's sexual orientation. Foreshadowing is heavy, so the pivotal discovery is not as surprising as it should be, and Greg's first-person narration is excessively sprinkled with brand names and popular references. Spencer's enthusiasm for her story is clear, but fuller characterizations and a more nuanced take on sensitive issues would have greatly improved an otherwise ordinary novel. Author tour. (Sept.)
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