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Is Love Really Frustrating?
by D. Kevin McNeir

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Some readers may be familiar with R.M. Johnson, one of the more popular African-American male writers, who has made a respectable name for himself in the Black fiction market. While his previous novels have focused on the Harris family--three brothers whose decisions take them down three very different paths in life--Love Frustration takes a new direction. This is a sexual soap opera set in Chicago, in which six young Black professionals basically bed-hop their way in search of the perfect partner. Just a hint--there is no such thing.

The novel begins optimistically with Jayson Abrams, the protagonist, and his fiancée, Faith, preparing for their wedding. But their future in marital bliss is threatened by jealousy when Faith accuses her betrothed of still having feelings for his former love interest--Asha Mills, who is a very sexy, multiracial massage therapist.

Faith gives Jayson an ultimatum--either end his friendship with Asha or consider the engagement off and the relationship over. In the fight that follows, the wedding is cancelled and Jayson finds himself alone and angry. But the real surprise to the drama is Asha, who we find is frustrated in her own relationship with Gill--a rich Southern man who treats her like a princess and has asked for her hand in marriage. It seems like she would be happy and content with life? After all, isn't it everyone's dream to find that "sugar-daddy" or "sugar-momma"? Not for Asha, who is just coming to terms with her own hidden desires--a preference for female partners. Her first tryst is a successful liaison with a sexy older client named Angie, but she too has a secret side to her life that she is unwilling to reveal. Not the kind of beginning for which one hopes as they start a new relationship.

Still interested in reading this Black soap opera? Johnson continues to add to the complexities by introducing Big Les--not a bouncer at the nightclub, but a bossy lesbian who catches Asha and Angie in the act and demands a piece of the action. Meanwhile, Jayson is set up by Faith's chosen maid of honor and discovers his fiancée "knocking boots" with her married lover. So will a marriage take place? While the end will be a surprise to most, it is encouraging to know that this is only a story and not real life.

Johnson writes credible prose but fails to develop credible romantic situations, opting for unbelievable sexual subplots in a narrative that has one thing in common in every chapter--a sexual scene or romantic intrigue. For some readers, being titillated by the never-ending "booty calls" dilutes the story line but does make it great entertainment for a lonely late-night reader.

One thing about Johnson's novel is his constant attention to the harshness of reality and his obvious belief that we must eventually confront both our dreams and nightmares--realizing that sometimes we have been the very engineers of both. It may not be Sex, Lies and Videotape, but it comes close.

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