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Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Tracing the lives of four couples who frequent the Atlanta swingers club Puss & Boots, Swing represents a unique convergence. Classifying it as erotica, urban fiction, and swinger fiction would all be accurate. The couples include Lyssa and Jacob, owners of the club and enterprising empty nesters. Danielle and Stewart are club regulars who met at a swingers club and then got married. JuJu and Ferrari are marriage of opposites. She's an aging supermodel, he's a waiter, an introvert, and twenty years her junior. Tori and Kevin are also married and Tori decides to give her husband a present by taking him to a swingers club.
What follows is four storylines on a collision course with each other. Appearances become deceptive as relationships unravel. We discover that JuJu is emotionally and physically abusive to Ferrari. Danielle and Stewart also have another agenda beyond luring couples to join them in their VIP room. The drama ramps up because of the toxic contagion of adultery. While this may sound absurd, at least to those with more conventional sexual habits, it is a real concern to all involved. Swinger clubs have specific sets of rules and it is a microcosm of society, existing with a parallel social contract. "Things get real," when this social contract is violated. At root, the swinger club functions because of mutual consent. Unlike polyamorous relationships, swinging involves temporary relationships that may or may not reunite the sexual partners. When it is discovered that Danielle and Stewart have been secretly taping couples and uploading it on to their own porn website, another couple takes matter into their own hands.
Beyond the sex, class runs like a livewire through the narrative. Unfortunately this may become obscured to readers and reviewers, especially since class and race are so inextricably linked in United States history and legislation. Why do they have to keep a brother down? Well, the United States has and had countless laws, customs, and Supreme Court decisions to make that happen. And anyone who criticized this was a carpetbagging meddler or Communist sympathizer.
But Swing can be classified as "urban fiction" only tangentially, since most of the characters are middle- and upper-middle-class African-Americans (and Ferrari, who is a Brazilian expat). Classifying a piece of fiction as "urban" because it has mostly African-American characters seems both too narrow and too condescending. Book reviewers and critics have decried "urban" and "hip-hop" lit as trading in negative African-American stereotypes, but what is really required is a Roland Barthes-esque dissection of the term, its connotations, and its history. The tendency for whites to think "urban = black" says more about the white people than about the multiplicity and variety of African-American experience in the United States.
As I said before, most of the characters are wealthy and comfortable. But they are also in touch with their roots. Because of the sensational nature of the swinger community, they have to "pass" as normal vanilla (sexually speaking) couples. (And the anguished complexities of "passing" by African-Americans in white communities has a long tradition in African-American literature.) When the repercussions of a couple's actions might lead to being outed as a swinger, they realize that their family will be scandalized. (One also recalls the mixed results of the 2008 election, with Barack Obama becoming the first African-American President and California passing Proposition 8, a law resurrecting the spirit of Jim Crow for American gays. The "down low" phenomenon among the African-American community remains a real problem.) Back to the point, because these couples have acquired newfound economic power, they will do anything to keep that power. How far they will go drives the engine of the narrative. Adultery is simply the spark that sets off the firestorm.
The only quibbles I have are minor. Miasha populates her novella with real people with real issues. There are beautiful bodies engaging in sexual acrobatics, but beneath the toned abs and curvaceous bods are compelling characters, each driven to desperation. There are some passages that read like cliches, but just as many sparkling and acidic bon mots. JuJu is part Naomi Campbell, part Lady Macbeth, in her egomaniacal drive to dominate.
Swing is a sleazy little gem of a book you can read at the beach or on the commute. Short, dirty, and a riveting page-turner. With Swing, Akashic Press's mission of literary "reverse gentrification" becomes that much clearer. Literary gentrification seeks to make things polished, bland, and monotonous (see the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop). This is literature with teeth and claws.
A final note, Swing was published by Akashic's imprint, Infamous, curated by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson, a member of the hip-hop group Mobb Deep.
Out of 10/8.0; higher for fans of erotica, urban fiction, and those in "the life."
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