Conventional wisdom says there are two sides to every story. But that's not the case in the latest novel by Clarence Nero. Three Sides to Every Story is a sizzling love story set in fabulous, pre-Katrina New Orleans that is seasoned with delightful characters and a wonderful black, gay aesthetic.
Johnny and Tonya are high school sweethearts who, like the author, grew up in the historic Ninth Ward. Tonya is a curvaceous tenderoni. Johnny is described as " a tall, chocolate specimen, six-four to be exact; lean, muscled arms with tattoos, long legs; a wide, solid chest; a nice, gorgeous ass." He is also a former football star, son of a prominent preacher and struggling with "gay feelings."
gayMng Their relationship is put to the test when Tonya is assaulted by Greg, her ex-boyfriend. Johnny seriously injures him—in Tonya's words "Fucked him up so bad, the boy ended up in the hospital for weeks"—and Johnny is imprisoned. He is sent to the notorious Sierra Leone prison (probably a stand-in for the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola). While behind bars, Tonya becomes a video ho (read: dancer) and girlfriend to Rico, a local, Master P-type rapper. Also during that time, Johnny is sent to solitary after beating another inmate who makes a pass at him.
In time, Johnny admits his violent streak was his own internalized homophobia and befriends James, a good looking, outgoing effeminate young man from his old neighborhood. Not only does his relationship with James change his attitudes toward gay men, but he begins to come to terms with his own sexuality, and, falls in love with James. "What me and James had, though, was on a totally different level. Gay love is an intense kind of love, cause for the most part you have to keep it hidden from everyone else. And that's what makes it even more special."
Once Johnny and James are on the outside, the love triangle explodes. James has become a popular drag personality at the same club where Tonya used to strip. There are several story lines about Johnny's relationship with his father, James and the "children" in his "house", domestic violence, and homophobia. Also, one of the three characters becomes HIV-positive and that becomes a major sub-plot.
Three Sides to Every Story is a filled with colorful, compelling characters and events are often written from the three, separate points of view. It probably would have been simpler and much more fashionable to make both of the male characters "jocks" or "down-low" types.
"It's a real gay love story that we don't see often enough," bestselling author E. Lynn Harris tells Rod 2.0. "I'm so happy that he didn't try to write a story that would sell but what he felt in his heart. This is the start of a very big career and pays homage to the wonderful city that New Orleans was and will be again."
Thankfully, Clarence Nero did not take the easy way out. His story of love, homophobia, church and family—plus, the setting of a soon-to-be-flood-ravaged New Orleans—is more a reflection on contemporary black America. The love story of a prototypical, hard core type and an admittedly-effeminate man is the landscape for many arguments that have been raised here and elsewhere.
Bravo. It's no wonder that Maya Angelou, Ernest Gaines and E. Lynn Harris love this novel.
Three Sides to Every Story (Clarence Nero)
Harlem Moon/Broadway/Random House
Previously:New Orleans: One Year Later (Rod 2.0) E. Lynn Harris in The Advocate (Rod 2.0) A Conversation with E. Lynn Harris (Rod 2.0) A Conversation with Keith Boykin (Rod 2.0) A Conversation with Darryl Stephens (Rod 2.0) A Conversation with Kevin E. Taylor (Rod 2.0) "We Don't Feel Welcome There" (Rod 2.0) Say a Little Prayer: ELH Interview (Rod 2.0) Book Review: "This Place of Men" (Rod 2.0) Book Review: "A Deeper Blue" (Rod 2.0) Book Review: "I Wrote This Song" (Rod 2.0) Gays and Black Church (Rod 2.0) Kirk Franklin on Gays (Rod 2.0) Catching Up With ... Lee Hayes (Rod 2.0)