|I read romances for their entertainment value, but I'm not against
the occasional real life issue creeping in. With women's literature, I almost expect it — as long as it neither overwhelms my peace of mind
nor detracts from the flow of the story. It's Like That fails on both these counts.
The novel picks up shortly after Cheryl Robinson's first book, If It
Ain't One Thing, and explores the difficult task of making a
relationship work after the initial infatuation has worn out. Winona
and Porter have decided to commit to each other, but have vowed to
remain celibate for forty days while they work their way together
through The Purpose Driven Life, a self-help guide. Porter doesn't
like the arrangement, but Winona needs it to decide whether she
really wants to tie the knot. It's not only the ten-years difference
between them that is holding her back. It's the fact that she's HIV
positive and he's not. Porter doesn't doubt that she's the One, but
that doesn't mean it's easy for him to remain faithful and especially
not when she's uninterested in sex.
As they struggle with the ups and downs of their relationship, both
Winona and Porter have to confront a host of other problems. He must
decide whether he wants to move from Detroit to California and accept
a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be the drummer for a major singer. He
also needs to come to terms with depressing news about his family
that may rekindle old wounds. As Winona tries to deal with her
children's adolescent rebellion and to determine whether she should
tell them about her health, she hears unsettling information about
her father and doesn't know how to respond.
Clearly, there is a lot happening in Winona's and
Porter's lives. Their limited success at grappling with the never-
ending cycle of problems renders them complex and plausible
characters. Regrettably, however, these problems don't always blend
smoothly to form a seamless story. Instead of contributing a
realistic touch, they made me feel as if Robinson were throwing one
difficulty after another to keep the plot going. Yes, life is
complicated, but novels — particularly commercial ones — require much
more coherence to make sense of the characters' dilemmas.
An occasional touch of humor or some light-hearted banter might have
helped. Sure, some of the issues are pretty heavy, but a quick
comparison with Pearl Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary
Day, which deals with many similar topics, would reveal that good
Fiction — even of the commercial variety — doesn't have to sacrifice
laughter and structure to deal with depressing social concerns.
Some of the dark overtones and the lack of coherence could have been
avoided by highlighting the positive aspects of Porter's and Winona's
relationship. Unfortunately, they rarely turn to each other for help
with their problems. With one exception, they continue to live
separately. It wasn't long before I began to wonder why they are
trying so hard to stay together when everything keeps them apart.
Worse, Porter's on-going flirtations had me questioning his ability
to remain faithful in the long run. Winona, too, is interested in
another man, one who, quite frankly, seems much better suited to her.
Despite — or perhaps because of — its realistic characters, its honest
and frank approach and its eloquent prose, I shut It's Like That
thinking that in the long run there was no happy-ever-after in store
for Porter and Winona, at least not together. Surely that's no way to
conclude a romance, even one of the more serious variety.