This book went on my shopping list a while ago when multiple people tweeted their excitement over seeing it released in ebook after it was published almost twenty years ago. When that wasn’t quite enough to get me over my wariness of cop heroes and click buy, I saw Kitt speak on a panel at RT. After hearing her talk about multicultural romance, I resolved to try her books, starting with this one.
Graphic designer Leah Downey is living in Brooklyn in the inherited brownstone she shares with her sister when she finds a white man sitting on her stairs one morning. He seems drunk and in some sort of crisis but doesn’t strike her as homeless, just out of sorts. Unable to just walk past him and go to work like he’s not there, she decides to offer him a cup of coffee and leave him to it. When the man stops by a month later to thank her for the coffee, she accepts his invitation to grab a bite to eat. She may be in a comfortable relationship with someone, but she can’t fight her curiosity at finding out more about Jason Horn.
The Color of Love is not a fluffy sort of read. Race and racism plays a significant role in the romantic conflict. Leah has more than one brush with sexual assault and is shown regularly navigating past street harassers in her neighborhood. Leah’s boyfriend is a drip who clearly doesn’t respect her and her sister is cold, calculating and disloyal. Jason’s coworkers and juvenile delinquent charges are violent thugs. Jason’s mourning the loss of his teenage son in a bus accident. It’s not light and it’s not fun.
What it is instead is the story of two people finding joy together in an imperfect world. There’s precious little justice in this story, which sounds like a bad thing in the context of the “just-world hypothesis” enamored romance genre, but it worked somehow to make the happy ending more believable. Their future happiness didn’t involve neatly solving all of their problems, it exists concurrent with them. Their relationship doesn’t require perfect conditions. Which is a good thing, because the world they live in has plenty of problems.
That said, I liked but didn’t love this book. There were moments where I thought I was in love, like when Leah finds out he’s a cop.
“What are you thinking now?” Jason asked.
For a moment Leah couldn’t answer. She just sat stiffly, not looking at him. “The truth? I’m thinking, what the hell am I doing here with you?” She turned to regard him openly. “And I’m thinking about a lot of young black men killed senselessly by police. White police.”
But then they’d be followed up with something far less righteous that didn’t feed my thirst for vengeance at all.
Jason shook his head. “Not always senselessly. Sometimes there’s good reason and you know it,” he said unapologetically.
Leah was taken aback.
Of course. She knew that. But it didn’t help. She sat silently as Jason calmly finished his cigarette and tossed the butt into the street. In a nervous gesture he ran his hand through his hair and half turned toward Leah.
“Look, we’re the first ones you’d call if you were in trouble. How bad can I be?”
Like, come ON dude. We know you have to shoot sometimes, but can’t we at least acknowledge that there’s a lot of unjust shooting going on? Just for a minute?
This book showed me that, for all I talk about wanting more realism in romance, I really like escapist fantasy more than I thought. Leah kept making calm, pragmatic decisions that kept the peace, and I wanted her to burn shit down and laugh. Her way kept her employed and on speaking terms with her awful sister. Her way made sense and made the HEA possible. I still wanted more burning.
A good example of the book not punishing those who wrong the protagonists would be Leah’s milquetoast boyfriend. You read a few uncomfortable sex scenes between them, and it’s clear they’re poorly matched with poor chemistry and still together only because breaking up would take effort. One night, however, they have sex that I’d label as rape. (I put the whole scene as a spoiler.) View Spoiler »
With no preliminaries, no soft touches, Allen brought them together before her body was ready. Leah held onto his shoulders, her fingers digging into his flesh, bracing herself against his sudden hardness and the dry friction with each thrust of his hips. Leah began twisting her body, arching it to pull away.
“Oh, my God. …” she moaned. She was uncomfortable. And scared.
She said Allen’s name twice. He didn’t seem to hear.
Allen buried his face in her neck, grunting and hissing. Leah didn’t understand what demon was driving him. She didn’t want to do this, and certainly not this way. Allen was not forcing her, but he was insistent. Leah couldn’t stop him. She lay there beneath him totally left out and uninvolved, feeling the inside of her vagina burn and pull roughly against the agitation of his penis.
His mouth searched for hers, but Leah kept her lips pressed tightly closed, protecting the least vulnerable spot of her body. He was mumbling incoherently. Angry words, blurred and unintelligible as his mouth pressed to hers. He pushed into her one last time, and Leah gritted her teeth against the pressure.
“It … hurts. You’re hurting me …” she whispered.
« Hide SpoilerHe remains a major secondary character after this, appearing in multiple situations where Leah has to be and is civil to him. He’s not only never punished, he gets his own HEA. View Spoiler »With Leah’s sister Gail, who was sleeping with him behind Leah’s back. She never really apologizes for doing that, then proceeds to give Leah a ton of grief for dating a white cop. Gail needed to be shot into space. « Hide SpoilerThere’s realism, and then there’s reliving life’s iniquities. It’s the Terrible Bargain, the romance novel.
Final Assessment: Despite some dry prose and accumulating weight of injustice heaped on the characters, I had a hard time putting this one down. I needed to see them be happy. B