She must be his mistress. Certainly not the wife. He hugged her too closely. Too passionately…. lovingly. He smiled and blushed. She melted in his arms, gushing in the tenderness of his sweet embrace. They barely noticed when I sat my small travel bag beside her in seat 26A. C/B/A 26 was located at the point of a side-exit door, and the three of us had bargained with the flight attendant (for the privilege to sit near the exit door) that we could lift more than 50 pounds, and that we would gladly and willingly help other passengers to safety in case of a landing emergency. Such a strange request. If the plane had to make an “emergency landing” (a euphemism for “OH MY FUCKING GOD!!! THE PLANE IS CRASHING AND WE’RE ALL GONNA FUCKING DIE!!) I would be too thrilled and grateful to aid survivors from a wrecked airplane crash, wouldn’t one think?.
Loverboy couldn’t keep his hands off of Dirty Diana. She looked 45 years old, sun-bleached blond, modest tits slightly exposed under a soft blue cashmere button-up resting over her arms and shoulders, snuggled, caressing her feminine mystique. She finally looked up at me, smiling as though she were concealing some forbidden secret. She had nice teeth, great smile, slender hips, polished toes, French manicure, and young-girl legs with cool zippers on her jeans. Her purple leotard top had a gaudy broach resting at the middle of her supple cleavage, and she flashed me a wicked smile when I turned to sit next to her. She looked like a young Nancy Sinatra, I thought to myself, noticing a bottle of water, a cup of oatmeal bran, and a Home Journal magazine resting on her lap. She had nice poise – not a Sophisticated Lady, though – and I could certainly see why he was infatuated with her. He held on to her tightly, so affectionate and tender and loving, as though he did not want to lose her for anything in the world. This woman did not seem to be his wife. He wore an expensive wedding ring, her wedding finger was bare. I smiled at the obviousness of their secret love affair, and I wondered if his wife would be waiting for him at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Perhaps there would be children too. Daddy, daddy! Welcome home! I took my seat beside Romeo and Juliet, read last-minute texts, set my music, and pulled out my latest review copy of Francine Craft’s Dying On The Edge.
Maggie French wants it all: glamour, sophisticated lifestyle – with style to match – and the dashing business tycoon, Kurt Wilder. She ultimately dances with the devil, apply her magic dust, and surrenders her fate on a silver platter. Like any man would, Wilder accepts the invitation to free love, but then decides to stay with his wife. Meanwhile, French turns up dead, the heat is on, and the chase begins.
Craft does a marvelous job opening this ambitious novel in proper “multicultural” context (even though Carroll City is fictitious), giving us a birdseye view of rich culture, smells, tastes, interiors, all meshed in a darlingly spiced martini-mix of Creole du Jour. Even more interesting is the photographic snapshots she gives of Maggie French. This following passage – the opening of the book – is as good as it gets:
Maggie French was beautiful in the eyes of most beholders, especially in men’s eyes. Even cheap mirrors reflected it. At times, Maggie felt empowered by her beauty, but at other times it failed her. Her hair was thick and silken, light ash brown, with long,thinned bangs and blunt cut-cut to shoulder length. Her alabaster skin had a hint of cream. Her eyes changed from pale violet to deep purple, framed by thick, dark, long lashes. She had an arrogantly perfect nose and lusciously full lips in an oval face. Face carried her sensuous five-foot-seven-inch body like the model she once had been.
Flight 1505 reached 37,000 feet and the pretty flight attendant walked slowly up the aisle-way offering peanuts, water, coffee, cookies, or a pair of headphones to anyone interested in listening to the featured movie. Another male flight attendant followed closely behind offering sandwich and candy menus. Cocktails were also available. I leaned back to read more of Craft’s supernatural novel.
The “Push Rule” suggests that no novel is perfect (well…unless it was written by Baldwin, but…uh). DOTE is essentially a multicultural mystery, and Craft has demonstrated her ability to do good, sound research. Yet, at times Craft has difficulty handling the dynamic complexities of voodoo life, Creole culture, multi-ethnicity, and this in turn threatens the vitality of her story – her plot stranded in cul de sacs of Poe-like despair, her characters dangling high from weak Geppetto vines, abandoned by Brothers Grimm, lost with Hansel and Gretel, and unable to move beyond Craft’s obscured handling of suspense and pathology. Yet, there are fine moments in DOTE, and Craft’s prose is polished and her dialogue is loaded with cultural/spiritual symbolism, and at times I was reminded of Monique Mensah:
She had glanced at him triumphantly before he said sadly, “do not do the deed you plan, even if it becomes, as you put it, necessary. You are not yet dead enough inside to be effectively evil. You still feel too much. Listen when I tell you that you will die in the flames you light for another. At the very least, your spirit will.
Dying On The Edge has style! And Craft gives a grand lesson in love, lust, and the power of persuasion. Craft is a good writer and a skilled storyteller. I appreciated Craft’s keen insight to religious complexity, voodoo culture, detective work, and her extremely rigorous research skills. The book jumps and spins and lands everywhere. I applaud Craft for her daring leap and fierce courage to be original, fresh and gutsy. Bravo!
Next: Book review of Melissa F. Weiner’s Power, Protest and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2010), for The Journal of Negro Education (Howard University)