When I interviewed Donna Hill last summer, the author was excited about work on her first mainstream novel. Soul to Soul, Donna Hill's first book of the new year, is a logical progression in her transition to "the other side."
Soul to Soul is the story of Leone Weathers. Leone has made several life passages of her own. After two decades as a nurse, Leone has realized her lifelong dream -- one inspired by an enjoyment of old movies -- of owning a nightclub. "But of course, growing up to be a nightclub owner wasn't something my folks sent me to college to do." Her club, Soul to Soul, is a popular spot in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill section.
Leone is a divorced single-mother of a teenage daughter who has rebuilt her life after marriage to a controlling and emotionally abusive husband. It's been three years since the divorce. When the novel begins, she is in a comfortable relationship with her business partner and bandleader, “safe, secure” Cole Fleming. But Cole wants to get married. Leone is wary of making a commitment. She is still suffering lingering after effects of her restricting first marriage. She has worked hard to make positive changes in her life and doesn’t want to regress.
"Leaving her job of twenty years, divorcing Steven and finally opening the club had all been acts of long overdue rebellion. She knew that. It had been terrifying and everyday she knew she'd gone completely crazy. And at the same time, she felt rejuvenated as if she'd been asleep and just going through the motions for most of her life."
Musician Ray Taylor enters Leone's well-ordered existence and nothing is the same. They are immediately attracted to one another, but both try to downplay the intensity of the magnetism they feel. Leone is different from any woman Ray has known. And Ray is many things Cole is not . . . "mysterious and inaccessible" and ten years younger than Leone. "That was the attraction," she rationalizes, "the challenge."
It would have been very easy for Donna Hill to write a clone of Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back. And why not? Other authors are imitating the commercially successful Stella and Waiting to Exhale. But experience has shown that Donna Hill is not like other authors and she doesn't "do predictable."
Soul to Soul is an interesting story about love, loyalty, self-esteem and being willing to take chances. In Leone Weathers, Hill has created a very different heroine strong, but vulnerable. Leone is able to learn from her mistakes. We see the contrasts in the two very different men who love her and the choice she eventually must make. As always, the author's love of music complements the narrative.
With Soul to Soul, a very popular author lets her readers know she is not content to rest on her laurels. She is continually redefining her work and expanding her range as a writer. It is extremely interesting to watch. There are a few surprises in Soul to Soul . . . but this is a Donna Hill novel. What else would you expect?