Title: Basketball Jones
Author: E. Lynn Harris
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: 256 pages (print); ebook, audiobook
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie
AJ Richardson, the hero of Harris’s raucous latest, has been the secret boyfriend of NBA star Drayton Jones for seven years. AJ is only too happy to keep their relationship under wraps-after all, with European trips and spending sprees financed by Dray, what’s there to complain about? But when gold-digger Judi Ledbetter nets Dray and his fat wallet, things get tricky. Soon, they’re married, Judi gets pregnant, and she’s gunning to drive AJ out of Dray’s life permanently. Blackmail, intrigue and double-crosses round out this fun little romp.
E. Lynn Harris was an IBM salesman who wrote and self-published his first book, Invisible Life, in 1991. It sold well and he was able to parlay its success into a contract with a major publisher. Eleven books and four million copies later, Harris was a regular fixture on the New York Times bestseller list. He was on a book tour for his current book, Basketball Jones, when he died in July 2009 of a heart attack. He was just 54 years old.
I knew none of this and was not familiar with Harris as an author until I happened to read his obituary in the New York Times. The Times described his writing thus,
“Mr. Harris clearly tapped a rich vein of reader interest with his racy and sometimes graphic tales of affluent, ambitious, powerful black men-athletes, businessmen, lawyers and the like-who nonetheless struggled with their attraction to both men and women. His books married the superficial glamour of jet-setting potboilers with an emotional candor that shed light on a segment of society that had received little attention: black men on the down low-that is, men who are publicly heterosexual but secretly have sex with men.”
Because I am curious and always on the lookout for new-to-me authors, I decided to buy Basketball Jones, and give it a go.
The synopsis, above, is a good summation of the story. As the tale begins, we learn that AJ has been living the good life and loving it-but things are starting to fray around the edges. First off, his lover, Dray, has gotten married. Even though he professes that “nothing will change,” of course things will change because he is no longer a single man. It also seems that maybe his NBA career has peaked, as he is traded from the superior Atlanta team to New Orleans, without any say-so about what is happening. This necessitates a move on AJ’s part (financed by Dray, of course) but AJ isn’t happy, because he liked living in Atlanta where he had friends and a social life. Throw in some duplicitous characters, double-crossing sneaks and of course, blackmail-because there is lots of money floating around from a whole gang of very well-to-do people-and the story is pretty clearly telegraphed and predictable from page one. Without likeable characters and at least a modicum of suspense, what is left for the reader? For me, not much. On top of that, the wooden writing, inane dialog, and a level of detail that was, at times, excruciatingly painful to read (I really did not need to know what kind of cream AJ puts on the blemishes on his face!) made this a hard book for me to plow through. I only kept reading because I wanted to see if I had guessed the ending correctly (I had).
To be fair, I read some other reviews of this book and it doesn’t sound like this was Harris’s strongest offering. If I had picked one of his earlier books to read, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more and would been more receptive to continuing on with this author. But maybe not. Clearly he had found a formula that was a success and earned him legions of fans. There’s nothing wrong with that-look at Grisham, Clancy, Cornwell and so on. They’ve done the same thing and more power to all of them. But, best-sellers or not, I draw the line when the writing doesn’t zing me, and Basketball Jones left me flat.
NB: At the time I read Basketball Jones, this was his latest book. Since then, he has had one more book published posthumously, Mama Dearest. I would surmise that he had the book partially finished at the time of his death and his agent/editor/friends managed to pull it together and finish it off. Similar to Basketball Jones, it has mixed reviews, but it seems that Harris’s fans are thrilled to have one last book to read from their favorite author. From what I can tell, the main theme is not a m/m storyline, although their may be some gay secondary characters. Just an FYI.