Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review of Black Magic Woman by Justin Gustianis Book 1 of the Quincy Morris Series

Because I seem to love reading things out of order, I have already done a review of Justin's second book in this series, Evil Ways.   In this book, we are introduced to Quincy Morris a sort of psychic investigator/problem solver, Libby Chastain his white witch friend and partner, as well as Dale Fenton an FBI agent, in the Behavioral Science unit. Each one of these characters has a very unique part to play in the story.

Someone is killing children by removing their organs while they are still alive.  Dale is desperate to find out who is responsible and so he manages to secure the help of a South African cop from the Occult Crime Unit named Van Dreenan.  At first their relationship is simply based on the respect that someone gives a fellow professional, but over time and experience, a level of trust is developed between the men.  Dale realizes that he must learn to give credence to the possibility of  the supernatural and he learns from Van Dreenan not only how real magic is, but that it can have deadly consequences.

My main issue with this story is that a significant section of the plot involved a White South African cop hunting down a Black African woman, who was a violent muti murderer. In an extreme display of White male privilege on page 80 Van Dreenan says, "Apartheid was what it was.  Neither of us can change history.  And now it is gone.  And neither of us need mourn it's passing". Speaking about apartheid so cavalierly and then quickly dismissing it's ongoing effects, is a sign of White privilege.  Though there is a burgeoning Black middle class, much of the division of wealth in South Africa still means that Blacks are largely impoverished, despite being in the majority.  An evil as great as apartheid should never be so easily dismissed, and while Van Dreenan may not mourn its passing, at no time did he acknowledge his personal gains because of it, much like many White Americans continue to fail to realize that though slavery ended some time ago, that they still benefit from unpaid labour of African-American slaves. You see, without infusion of African labour, the U.S. would not be the powerhouse that it is today, nor would these White South Afrikaners be able to live in such relative comfort, juxtaposed to the Black native population.  Saying "it was what it was," allowed Whites to simply confess their crimes in the Truth and Reconciliation commission, while Blacks received no justice. How can it be a thing of the past, when justice has yet to be served?  Fenton, the Black American cop does not even bother to call him out on his privileged language. When need not make a statement of agreement; silence is enough to imply acceptance.

Cecelia Mbwato is an umthakhati, "Zulu for witch or sorcerer. In Sotho, the name is baloyi." Gustianis makes a point of saying that not all who practice voodoo are bad people; however, the negative treatment of Mbwato makes him yet another author who is willing to construct it as negative, even violent belief system.  Van Dreenan chose to come to the aid of the FBI in part because of a personal vendetta.  I won't tell you what this is, but I do feel that it is absolutely necessary to point out that examination of the history of violence in South Africa, will show that Blacks have more often been the victims of violence and not the perpetrator, and this is especially true when it comes to policing -- yet this is not the road that Gustianis chose to embark upon. In this case, the White South African is the victim -- how absolutely unoriginal.

The White/Black binary was further displayed in relationship between Cecelia and White supremacist Snake Perkins.  Throughout the novel, Snake refers to Cecelia as nigger.  I know that this is common language for a White supremacist, but it was jarring to read.  At one point, I felt like screaming at the book, "yeah, I get it he's a racist, enough with the slurs already," because the use of the word nigger was ubiquitous.  

In one scene, they are forced to share a bed, and Snake actually fears that he will be forced to inhale Cecelia's stink, because he was raised to believe that all Black people smell.  The only consensual sex in this book, happens at this juncture and it was absolutely disturbing.  Cecelia knew that Snake found her disgusting and yet she still chose to initiate sex. What was this but a play upon the false social belief that all Black women are licentious, and are just happy to get a good dicking whenever they can find it. Whatever hope there was of erasing the racist interaction between the two, was lost when Cecelia expressed shock at the size of Snake's penis.

As I mentioned earlier, Libby is a White witch but we also learn that she is bi-sexual. When questioned about her sexuality my Quincy, Libby responds on page 127, "Yes, I'm bisexual, but that doesn't make me a slut." When Quincy admits that it is none of his business, she responds, "All right, okay. I'm sorry. I guess I'm feeling a little defensive at the moment."  Though Quincy claims he does not care, he references Libby's bisexuality several times in the novel, as though this tells him something significant about her.  

Quincy also refers to the orgy that Simon orchestrated as a "Tijuana circus," (page122) implying that such an act was far beneath him.  Libby concurs saying, "that kind of mindless rutting is definitely not my scene." After being attacked by an incubus/succubus Libby tells Quincy, "I've had romantic relationships with several people in my life.  Some of them were men, some were women. But always one at a time. And I've never even considered something like that sexual free-for-all we saw at Duval's place." 

For someone who does not care what others do in bed, Libby spends quite a bit of time explaining her sexual history, while Quincy is not in the least bit inclined to share the same information. It reads like the confessional, in which LGBT people are constantly forced into confessing their sexual identity and or behaviour.  The other element at play is of course gender, because of Libby's concern about being viewed as a slut.  She seems desperate to have Quincy believe that she is a good girl.  Good girls only engage in monogamous relationships apparently.  Where does this leave women who practice polyamory? Libby is concerned that she be deemed suitably chaste, and Cecelia Mbwato screws a man to pass the time, and this very much plays into a racist construction of female sexuality.  Black women are the ones you fuck and don't talk about, but White women are the ones you take home and introduce to mom. This is the Whore/Madonna complex wrapped around race.

For all of the negative things that I have said, it may seem like I didn't enjoy the book; however, that is not the case.  The story was compelling and very fast paced.  I was constantly kept on edge, wondering what would happen next.  When dealing with Quincey's ancestry, Gustainis was absolutely brilliant and that is why the isms that I mention hurt so much.  Were it not for the fails in this book, I could easily declare him one of my favourite authors in this genre, because his story is rich, and so very complex. This bookwas wonderful - there were some major issues with it that we do have to talk about, but the story under that was truly brilliant

There can be no denying that he has a real talent, and I can only hope that in books to follow, that he will believe this enough to avoid relying on reductionist stereotypes to frame his characters around and just tell his story.