August 1, 2012

Psycho/Erotic Thriller Misfires

On May 29, 2009, I posted reviews of Charlotte Carter’s novels featuring her smart, beautiful, Black amateur detective Nanette Hayes. I had not, at the time, read her three other novels: Walking Bones, Jackson Park, and Trip Wire. Starting with Walking Bones, I’ll be reviewing the novels in my next three post.

Carter is a writer of detective stories. Walking Bones is a significant departure from her detective novels. Although one character is a detective, and a crime is committed, it doesn’t drive the plot. Lecherous sexual behavior does. It is as though Carter decided to experiment with a different genre, writing an erotic thriller to test her talent. The experiment, if it is that, is unsuccessful. I admire her for taking the risk, and I have to accept that doing so means she produced a very disappointing novel. No matter how good a novelist is, not all that she writes will be of a quality that matches her talent.

The action in this awful erotic thriller opens with a black woman slapping a middle-aged white man in the face with a glass after he makes the crude remark that he likes black cunt. His crude remark and her response ignites a chain of events that will set three people on a deadly collision course: the protagonist Nettie Rogers, her gay friend Rufe Beard, and the alcoholic, sexual deviant White man Albert Press.

Six Foot tall, light-skinned Nettie Rogers came to New York to be a model, but when she started to gain weight, her modeling career went down the drain and she into deep depression. Her friend Rufe decided that sleeping with strange men whom he procured for her would cure the depression. Nettie quits having unsatisfying sex with strangers because it increases rather than cures her depression. She finds satisfaction and ease of mind in making and selling handbags from which occupation she makes a modest living.

Albert, on the other hand, becomes obessessed with Nettie and lies to the investigating detective about what happened to him in the bar, alleging he doesn’t remember. He tracks her down through Rufe and begins showering her with gifts. We see how dangerous he is through his past relationship with a young White woman he hired and mentored in his publishing company. The relationship reveals his sexually deviant dark side.

Rufe suspects Albert of being a sexual deviate and believes he will harm Nettie. His big brother-type protective instinct toward her takes over. He must save her from herself and Albert. This creates rising tension and suspenseful anticipation: What is going to happen when the paths of the three characters, Nettie, Albert, and Rufe collide? Any further discussion of the plot of this highly disappointing novel would be a spoiler.

Walking Bones is not “exhilarating, funky, sensuous,” as the blurb on the front cover from the Cleveland Plain Dealer claims, but it is “downright vulgar.” I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether it is literary erotica or literary pornography. Since I don’t think Carter wrote the novel to satisfy readers’ possible prurient desires, I tried to see some social or culture significance. Possibility: Expose White men’s perverse hunger for Black women, which is speculation on my part.

Walking Bones is not up to Carter’s talent.