We’re reading our way across America...one romance at a time. And, to make it even more fun, we’re doing it in order of incorporation into the United States.
Alabama: The Jump Off by Doug Dixon
I love to read and I’ve read a lot of books, but The Jump Off is something I’ve never seen before: A modern romance novel narrated entirely by an African American man. Maybe I need to broaden my reading horizons, or maybe Doug Dixon’s debut novel really is just that unusual. In any event, it gave me a rare, fascinating, and brutally honest peek inside the mind of a hero during his turbulent, sometimes stressful, and extremely eventful courtship.
Troy is an attractive, successful software developer in Mobile, Alabama, making good money and never without a new honey on his arm. Then he meets Jennifer, a beautiful and ambitious lawyer, and just like that his tomcatting days are over. In fact, he becomes a model fiancé—loving, supportive, and kind. He is an excellent cook and (it should go without saying) a lover par excellence. He goes to church and turns to Scripture when things are going wrong. He works hard. Life is good.
Then Jennifer drops a piano (metaphorically speaking) on his head: She has accepted a position with a high-powered firm in Atlanta. Troy’s employment contract will keep him in Mobile for another year, and he’s frustrated: he had big dreams of building a house for his bride right there in town, and now he’s stuck in an unsatisfying long-distance gig with a fiancée who is usually either on the road for her job or too tired to talk.
Indeed, communication with her man turns out not to be one of Jennifer’s particular talents, and Troy…well, he’s got some growing up to do. He’s basically a good egg, but he also has a jealous streak, and as time goes on he becomes increasingly paranoid and insecure. It’s not surprising that when he decides to surprise Jennifer with a visit and catches her in the company of another man, he immediately suspects the worst. Although Jennifer loudly—and repeatedly—proclaims her complete innocence, Troy is fresh out of patience with the whole situation and dumps her flat. He rebounds with his co-worker, a fiery Puerto Rican sex bomb named Dana. This is, as quickly becomes evident, a serious mistake.
This was a really interesting read. I felt like an anthropologist, or maybe more like a spy, because I have so rarely seen a romance novel so entirely masculine in voice and perspective. At more than one point along the way, I said to myself, “A woman never would have written it like this.” And—I have to say—vive la différence!
So from my TOP SEKRIT vantage point behind the lines in the undiscovered country that is the male psyche, and assuming that Troy is a typical manly male specimen, I can report back as follows:
• Men like food. When Troy and his friends aren’t thinking about their women, they’re thinking about their next meal. Seriously, whenever there’s a restaurant scene—and these people eat out a lot—he can’t resist listing every item on the menu, everything he decides to eat, everything his companion(s) decide(s) to eat, how much they enjoyed it, and how many drinks each member of the party consumed.
• Men are more interested in clothing than I would have guessed. Troy usually describes his outfit in considerable detail, as well as the outfits of all the women who come into his orbit. (Not so much with his male friends, interestingly.)
• Brand names are important, too—Courvoisier, Kenneth Cole, Versace, and Hennessy, always with the Hennessy. (It’s Troy’s favorite.) It got to the point where I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Rhage, Vishous, and Butch roar up in their Escalade to take Troy on a forget-your-troubles jaunt to Zero Sum, where they would all drink Hennessy and compare footwear.
• Men may love sex, but they crave love. Troy and his friends—Mike, the happily married cop, and Rick, the unrepentant player—also spend a lot of time talking about their relationships with an honesty and emotional openness I wouldn’t have expected from a group of men, including one memorable scene in which Rick describes his latest conquest using language and a level of detail usually reserved for the Penthouse Forum. (My husband assures me that such a conversation would be highly unusual for the dudes in his circle, and that it was probably included for dramatic effect. Whew!) Troy’s interactions with the two are fascinating—Rick is who he used to be, while level-headed Mike is who he aspires to be…if only the women in his life would get with the program.
So there you have it: The mind of the modern male in 250 pages. I should also mention that the love scenes will not disappoint, and in fact during Troy’s first big moment, within the space of a page I had learned a new euphemism for ladyparts (“rose bed”) and encountered what may well have been my first instance of toe-sucking within the pages of a mainstream romance. (I can’t decide whether this means that I really do need to read more widely, or I’m doing JUST FINE THANK YOU.)
But at the end of the day, Troy is a romantic at heart and wants Jennifer’s love, not just her body. And he gets it—during the book’s sweet and romantic ending, when he stands in the church and confides in the reader that “It was like the gates of heaven opened and there was one of God’s angels,” his eyes fill with tears. And, reader, you’ll be so happy for Troy that yours may very well, too.
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak magazine.