Sigh. That’s how I felt reading the pages of this 120 page novella. Not quite a novel, longer than a short story, but terribly written all the same. If you haven’t guessed already, I hated The White House by JaQuavis Coleman, and debated putting it down after the first few pages. Why did I have such a bad reaction to it? Well, the very first page put me off for starters. The author’s note at the beginning of the book essentially told me that I wasn’t the right reader for this book, and wouldn’t understand the underlying story of it. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of an author’s note to entice the reader, not dismiss them as not being the right kind of person to pick up their book in the first place? Coleman couldn’t have made himself any clearer, when he writes:
“I intentionally drop subtle gems for the people like me who came from where I came. There are always two layers to my books; not everyone will get the second layer but the ones who do…they feel me. You see, I talk to the readers but I whisper to the streets. The streets being people who grew up in the struggle and love to read books because it closely resembles their current or past lifestyles” (p. 7).
Let me be clear here-there is nothing subtle about this book. It opens with a raunchy sex scene that was rendered that much worse because I just finished reading another book that included sex scenes-ones that were much better written, let me assure you.
I understand that because this book is an example of “street fiction”, the dialogue isn’t going to be high-brow, because many of the characters are un-educated and committing crimes in an attempt to make money. However, this doesn’t excuse the overwhelming amount of cliches and over-used sayings throughout the story. For example:
“Total pandemonium were the only words to describe the streets of Detroit. It was the most gloomy week for the city in recent memory. A well-respected OG was put to rest and days after a young man hung from a streetlight with a bullet-riddled body. The entire city was on pins and needles and the local officials were in a frenzy trying to hold everything together” (p. 91).
The phrase ‘pins and needles’ was used just a few pages before, and in my humble literary opinion, the use of such a cliched phrase twice in such a short time span is inexcusable. Why couldn’t a different term be used? I’m not reading a newspaper article, this is supposed to be enjoyable to read, so looking for variety in the text shouldn’t be too much to ask for.
Some have complained that the ‘urban street fiction‘ genre is glamorizing crime and life on the streets. My response to that is: so what? It isn’t any different than other more common forms of entertainment we enjoy (action movies, rap songs, etc.). If this is a popular genre, and people like reading it, it should continue to be written if there is a demand for it. What I do have a problem with is the terrible writing. There is no excuse for such unimaginative and cookie-cutter sentences in a published book. If you’re a bad writer, you shouldn’t have your stuff published on paper, especially by a reputable publisher that should know better. I enjoy Akashic Books, which is why I was so surprised that they put their brand behind something like this-I know they can do better, and I think they should expect more of their writers as well.