has also reviewed:

Mirror Image

 
Opposites Attract
by Shirley Hailstock
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-004-2
****
Nefertiti Kincaid heads the MIS department in a chemical firm that is merging with another company. Some people have been outplaced by the merger and more jobs are expected to be lost. Her firm has touted the management philosophies of Averal Ballantine in many of its decisions and has hired him as a consultant during the transition. A one-on-one meeting has been scheduled with him and she'd like to have the upper hand in order to save jobs in her department.

Averal Ballantine is in a local mall signing copies of his book, Managing Business Related Stress: A User's Guide. Nefertiti goes to the mall to purchase his book, gain insight on the man and, perhaps get a grip on her own business related stress before their meeting. Averal's stress levels go up several points during their first encounter. She is aloof, even a bit hostile toward him and he can't understand why. When he later learns the reasons, he sets out to break through her reserve. She discovers she doesn't really dislike him, just the change and uncertainty he represents.

Shirley Hailstock is a good writer. Her stories and characters are mature and she displays a great deal of respect for the reader. Opposites Attract had the potential to be a "big misunderstanding" story. Hailstock clears up misunderstandings as they develop and moves on with the story. Once her couples have decided to be together, they don't backpedal and they don't play games. I like that.

The other thing I liked was Hailstock's opening passage. Averal is signing books in a crowded mall. Through Hailstock's writing, we are aware of Nefertiti before we see her. She is different from all other women. The other women in the bookstore are wearing sneakers, Averal notices the tap, tap, tap of her heels in the corridor announcing her arrival. We and he have to sit up and pay attention.

She closed the book. He mentally telegraphed her a message: Buy it. At least he could autograph it and find out her name.

Hailstock has entered another phase in her writing. Her romances exist within a larger context. As with Mirror Image and "Kwanzaa Angel," her story in the Winter Nights anthology, Opposites Attract exists on a number of different levels. She pays homage to historically Black colleges and universities. However, Opposites Attract is a primarily story about family good, bad and indifferent. It is about the strength of families and the importance of surrogate and extended families. The novel emphasizes the role of Black women aunts, grandmothers, sisters, mothers in preserving families. Hailstock deftly sets her story amidst the strongest family season, the period between Thanksgiving through Christmas. The secondary characters all underscore the importance of family.

The interaction between the two main characters is excellent. There are several steamy scenes. One of my favorite scenes involves Nefertiti's attempt to use a stress management technique. "It was hard to be intimidated by a man if you imagined him standing there naked." Her strategy backfired when she not only imagined him naked, but that she had undressed him!

The contrasts between Nefertiti and Averal aren't just professional, they are familial. She is from a close-knit family of two college-aged nephews whom she's raising, grandparents (married for 50 years), "seven great-aunts, four-great-uncles and over thirty cousins."

Averal is a very complex man. The product of a fractured family, his parents divorced 22 years earlier after his younger brother's death. His father remarried and he has half-siblings he rarely sees. "At thirty-four he was still carrying the baggage of that twelve-year old boy." And although Averal has written six books on management, conducted interviews and held stress managment training, he panics when its time to have a conversation with his estranged father.

While I enjoyed Opposites Attract, the heroine's name was a distraction. What's in a name? In this case, it's the difference between a five-heart and a four-heart rating. Why?

Nefertiti Kincaid's nickname is "Never." I suppose it's not bad when you consider the alternatives. But it took me a couple of chapters to mentally and visually adjust to the use of the word "never"as a proper name instead of an adverb. Sometimes I found myself re-reading sentences: "Never knew what she was doing, but she kept it up."

There were a few minor continuity problems and a rejected suitor who needs a book and a life of his own. Flaws notwithstanding, Opposites Attract is mature story and a satisfying read.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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