I know you're afraid of what you feel
You still need time to heal
And I can help if you'll only let me try
You touch me and something in me knew
What I could have with you
Now I'm not ready
to kiss that dream goodbye . . .
Chaka Khan, Through the Fire
Perhaps the third time’s the charm for Quinn Parker. Donna Hill=s 1998 novel A Private Affair is Quinn’s story. To a large extent, Pieces of Dreams, released the following year, is his story, too. Through the Fire is also Quinn’s story. Why so many?
Quinten Parker is, probably, Donna Hill’s most complex character. He is a flawed and tortured man who has known his share of loss. Through the Fire may be just the latest installment in his saga. Donna Hill always manages a surprise or two. This novel is no exception.
It is important to know Quinn as Hill’s fans have come to understand the facets of his personality and the events that have shaped him. While Through the Fire touches upon those events, I would strongly recommend reading A Private Affair and Pieces of Dreams first. For that reason, my plot summary is deliberately vague.
Quinten Parker is a songwriter and novelist who has not written a song or a note in three years. Quinn has lost his muse. Quinn has lost a lot of things and is just going through the motions from day to day. When he encounters Rae Lindsay in the supermarket, she recognizes a kindred spirit. Rae invites him to her spoken word performance in a local nightclub and, to his surprise, Quinn goes.
Later, Quinn recalls that Rae is also a songwriter who has created several award-winning songs.
In addition to their professional similarities, they both have known personal tragedies. Rae had a life-shattering experience of her own that parallels Quinn's in time and magnitude. She is on the way back and offers him friendship and a chance to emerge from his personal abyss. As their friendship evolves into a full-blown relationship, the scenes between Rae and Quinn are credible. Quinn has forgotten how and why of love. As a result, his initial attempts at lovemaking are raw.
As I mentioned before, Quinn is an extremely complex character. A life-altering experience at age 16 laid the foundation for the man he has become. A pattern emerges that is a reflection of four strong women who have influenced his life at critical junctures. Rae is the fifth. Quinn tends to seek out enablers - women who are willing to orchestrate his life. Although he is a strong man in many ways, this is who he is. In Rae Lindsay, Quinn has found yet another woman who is willing to put his needs first. She personifies the lyrics in the title song:
“Through the fire, To the limit, to the wall, For a chance to be with you, I'd gladly risk it all. Through the fire, Through whatever, come what may, For a chance at loving you, I'd take it all the way, Right down to the wire, Even through the fire.”
One of the things I enjoy about African-American romances is the relationship between music and fiction. Between 25 and 30 percent of African-American romances share titles with R&B songs. Donna Hill is among the most creative authors in her use of music and prose. In Through the Fire, Hill skillfully infuses her novel with the essence of Chaka Khan’s haunting 1985 tune without ever directly referencing the title or its lyrics. (There is a fleeting mention of Khan’s later “Epiphany” album which includes the song.)