Featuring a family from Batesville, Mississippi, the novel STRONG BOY, WEAK MAN by Earl Robert Key explores how young Michael DeAngelo Nicolas endeavors to grow from a challenged youth into a good man.
The book cover for STRONG BOY, WEAK MAN depicts a mighty black man’s back under the American flag, implying that the story readers will find inside delves into what it’s meant for African American people to have carried the weight of the United States of America on their shoulders for centuries, perhaps in ways comparable to the books by Ta-Nehisi Coates (ie Between the World and Me, etc) currently adding so much to this long-suppressed conversation. And while STRONG BOY, WEAK MAN by Earl Robert Key gets off to a robust beginning, it then falters.
Young Mike Nicolas hopes to become a man of integrity unlike his father who keeps prioritizing an affair with another man’s wife above all else. Yet ultimately readers will find that for all the ways Mike tries to provide for his mother and siblings, as the son becomes an adolescent and then a man, he too routinely juggles multiple sexual partners without informing them. While becoming the very thing one loathes may be typical, just reiterating that this is how certain black men behave adds nothing new or helpful to literature’s depiction of that segment of the population.
Readers may root for Mike as he endures an assortment of jobs while trying to create financial stability, but the longer this lengthy book progresses the less Mike remains sympathetic. This critical flaw is aided by the fact that most stories throughout are presented more as outlined summaries rather than actual well-plotted, fleshed-out story scenes. For example: “Mike used Bill’s car to move all his personal belongings from the apartment over to the house. In the process of doing that, he ran into one of his old classmate, Daisy Sanders. She had actually graduated at the same time as Mike. She and her sister, Victoria, were walking along on their way to the neighborhood grocery store when he spotted them. He was actually glad to see somebody he knew. They stopped and talked for a short time, catching up on people and events.” As the old adage goes, this novel would be much improved by more showing, less telling.
Viscerally depicting life for African Americans in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s South is an intriguing and worthwhile goal. Unfortunately STRONG BOY, WEAK MAN by Earl Robert Key does not do it justice.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader