on the surface, e. lynn harris's
books seem like predictable mildly escapist fiction. His characters, mostly middle-class African Americans, live glamorous, exciting, great-sex-filled lives in the arenas of sports and entertainment.
But one thing sets him apart from his best-selling-author colleagues. Since his first novel, Invisible Life, the former IBM executive has explored the world of the bisexual male. Boy meets girl. Boy meets boy. Girl finds out. Which one does he end up with?
It's a brilliant formula for middle-brow literary success, the stories full of conflict, nice fashions and a li'l bit of sexual-orientation consciousness-raising. Plus, Harris is no fool. He knows his fiction appeals to several demographics. Straight women are reading him because the men in his books are more sensitive than the ones they know. Gay guys enjoy the locker-room talk and the man-on-man action.
OK, so he's no James Baldwin. But as his latest, Not A Day Goes By, proves, he's also not a bad novelist.
The book opens with sports agent John Basil Henderson phoning up his fiancee, up-and-coming Broadway star Yancey Harrington Braxton. It's their wedding day, and Basil wants to call it off, claiming Yancey knows the reason.
Harris then flashes back, filling in details like Basil's glory years as a football star, his promiscuous days with men and women, Yancey's All About Eve ambition, her mysterious romantic past and the high-profile courtship between the two.
With the introduction of the third player, a gay sports agent and former pro athlete named Zurich who's about to sign with Basil's firm, things heat up. But they start cooking only when Yancey's scheming mother walks on the scene to air the closets of her future son-in-law.
Apart from the page-turning plot, Harris delivers some fine insights into the importance of reconciling the present with the past. By the end, he's explored ethical dilemmas that apply to any relationships, and his main characters have all advanced one big emotional step forward. Now, if only they'd change their phony names.
NOT A DAY GOES BY by E. Lynn Harris (Doubleday), 273 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN