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Bittersweet Hardcover – January 2, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
In his debut, Johnson aims high, attempting to tell the intertwined stories of three African-American brothers, but he overextends his reach as the tales spiral in hackneyed directions. Nathan, the oldest, successfully presides over his Pittsburgh church as he battles the advances of a female parishioner. Victor, or "Ice," drives a bus in Cleveland and overflows with a street bravado that sometimes slips into caricature. Clifford, the most interesting of the trio, pursues an M.B.A. while working at a white-collar job; he tries to live the middle-class African-American dream, but when his wife decides to divorce him, his life crumbles as he desperately strives to gain custody of his sons. Johnson arranges the novel so that all three brothers suffer relationship difficulties simultaneously; a contrived setup, but one that allows him to offer a variety of thoughtful perspectives on the topic of marriage and the pressures couples endure to make their partnerships work. In some interesting internal monologues, the brothers emerge as distinct people, but the abrupt cuts back and forth between them disrupt the flow of the tale. The brothers' mother a widowed former educator working toward her Ph.D. emerges as the strongest character even though she is relegated to a supporting role. Providing guidance, leadership and a verbal smack in the face when necessary, she offers comfort and advice in her sons' times of trouble. This is a heartfelt first novel, but it fails to lend fresh insight into the dynamics of contemporary African-American family life.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Bittersweet is an apt title for this tale of three brothers: Clifford, who works hard to support his wife and two young sons while completing his MBA; Nathan, who long ago gave himself over to the Lord and is now a minister with a wife and two teenaged children; and Victor, a divorced absentee father who works as a bus driver and plays the field. The three have never had much in common, but their mother, now a school principal and Ph.D. candidate, has impressed upon them the importance of God and blood despite all differences. Ironically, it is Victor, whom the others have always felt deserving of their prayers and pity, who is getting his life together and offering his brothers some good advice for doing the same. In his first novel, Johnson gambles successfully with an unusual format: the story is told by each brother in alternating chapters, a technique that works well because it allows the reader to see each man's internal struggles and the consequences for each family unit. With three stories being told simultaneously, this novel has a huge cast of characters, and Johnson does an excellent job of developing each character to the extent needed by the story. The result is a loving tale of family and what it means to be an African American man in today's society. Recommended for popular fiction collections, this would also serve well in academic libraries supporting men's studies and courses in the African American family. Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
This story told by each brother in alternating chapters is unique and well developed. Johnson's writing is so crisp and fresh that this 372 page novel will go by in a flash. I believe what I enjoyed most about this story is that it depicted black men in times of trouble committed to the women in their lives and to keeping their families together at all cost. Author Freddie Lee Johnson, III tells this story with the kind of humor and thoughtfulness that makes him a welcome new voice to the genre of contemporary African American literature!
Bittersweet is filled with much thought-provoking issues as it examines the challenges men face when they want to either (1) stay married, or (2) maintain custody of the children. Although some men may have noble intentions, their desires seem to be secondary to a system that doesn't favor participant dads. And there's plenty of educating going on in Bittersweet as Cliff, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, tries to maneuver his way back into a relationship with a wife who fights his reconciliatory attempts every step of the way.
The laugh-out-loud, streetwise philosophies of Victor, however, are what make Bittersweet an entertainment smorgasbord. Victor, a fellow who never holds his tongue when it comes to voicing his opinion, is nurturing and protective of his baby brother Cliff and warns him to not continually gripe about his woes to other people because, "...half the suckas don't care about your problems, and the other half is glad you got `em."
Victor's voice is one of the strongest to emerge from fiction in recent years and may remind some of Franklin, the main male character in Terry McMillan's Disappearing Act. But don't despair. Writer Freddie Johnson isn't duplicating what's already been done, instead his success may lie in the fine way he brings a fresh voice to a literary arena that's thirsty for writing that can be streetwise, contemporary, compelling, and lyrical with lessons learned by the time the book comes to a close.
Bittersweet should be one of the most memorable and beloved reads of 2002 and is highly recommended.
Most recent customer reviews
but first let me say divorce is no joke and there is no easy answer what is in someone's head.Read more