Basketball Jones – E. Lynn Harris (Doubleday)

Buy it Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Books like this always cause me strife and result in self-examination on my part. Is it a crapfest? Oh yes – but it’s a crapfest that has not only sold well but accumulated over 50 five star reviews on Amazon. Okay, Amazon.com is hardly the last word on taste and good reading, but its influence on books and readers is undeniable. And they loved this book. What’s wrong with me?

I’ll tell you what – nothing, damn it.

For those curious to know more, “Basketball Jones” is the story of AJ Richardson, the kept dude of basketball star Drayton “Dray” Jones, who is married and on the downlow. There is Judi, Dray’s wife, and there is a blackmail plot. There is also a best friend, a snappin’ fierce female character named Jade and a pat, telegraphed ending. And that’s all you need to know.

The negatives? Flat, lazy writing (one character is described as “just like Edie from ‘Desperate Housewives’” – useless for those of us who haven’t had the privilege of meeting her), shallow, dislikeable characters who sport designer labels and brand names in some literary equivalent of product placement and plot holes you could drive a Peterbilt through. On a positive note, it’s less than 260 pages.

A friend who actually liked this collection of sour stereotypes told me, “It’s a good, light beach read.” I submit that even the lightest of beach reads requires some investment in character and plot – some resonance, some essential truth with which to connect. I found no investment here other than the $15 this hardbound hackwork cost, which was hardly money well spent. Yet it sells. And it gets wonderful reviews. That’s the real crime. Junk like this racks up sales in the millions while far worthier authors like Wayne Courtois, Trebor Healey, Scott Heim, Jeff Mann, Radclyffe and so many others go virtually unnoticed on the best-seller lists.

My dirty little secret is that I’ve tried to sell out the way Harris has. I’ve tried to write this kind of stuff, but I can’t. Every time I try, I have to put some weird-ass spin on the plot or give the characters some bizarre trait that only their mothers could love. That’s the only way I can keep it interesting enough for me to finish writing it. So I suppose I’ll never sell three million copies of anything.

If I have to write something like “Basketball Jones,” to do it, I’d rather starve anyway.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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