by Abha Dawesar
(Cleis Press, 2000)
I put “Mini-Planner” on my debut novel list because I was a huge fan of Dawesar’s “Babyji” (Anchor, 2005). I read “Babyji” during my adolescent coming out time and was impressed by the way the Dawesar creates a female teenage girl protagonist who explores her sexuality in three affairs with both older and younger woman. Of course, as a baby queer dyke, “Babyji” was one of my favorite reads and I was curious to see how her first book influenced her next. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get through Mini-Planner – which is one of the reasons I am still going to review it.
Nathan, a corporate business man, gets himself tangled in a love triangle with his boss Andre and his fiance, Sybil. He also starts sleeping with Andre’s secretary, along with a string of temporary and old lovers. Neither Andre or Sybil are aware that Nathan is dating them both. Of course, chaos follows. Between Nathan’s demanding job and even more demanding lovers, Nathan only has his mini-planner to guide him through his complicated, secret relationships.
The reason why I didn’t finish this book was mostly because I could not connect with the characters. They are all written in a blank, 2-dimensional way which doesn’t serve them as believable people in the story, particularly Nathan. He is the one telling the story and 176 pages in, I only found myself frustrated with him and completely untrusting of his narrative. As a poly player, I hated the fact that even though Sybil and Andre are open, they still keep many secrets from each other, including their shared lover. Lying and cheating happens for many reasons in open relationships but Dawesar only lightly explores why this occurs with the couple and it doesn’t help that the characters themselves fall so flat.
I stopped reading completely after several scenes with the secretary Martha, who becomes Nathan’s fuck buddy. She is the only African American female character in the book and is immediately bumped to the bottom of Nathan’s dating list. Nathan complains about her endlessly, throws her a bone by fucking her and pretending to enjoy their dates when he can’t get in touch with Andre or Sybil. Their sex scenes are pure pity fucks, Nathan feeling more pitiful for himself then anyone else, and he even remarks are how grossed out he is over Martha’s genital piercing. Since I didn’t finish the book, I read a tell all review that spilled the fact that Nathan ends up getting her pregnant. So not only is Martha a pity fuck, but she fulfills on her role as a black barefoot and pregnant woman? I don’t think so.
I am really sick of reading books that continue to make black woman the underdog, much like they make them in society. It’s fiction, a brilliant place where an author can create a new world. Why not create one that empowers woman of color instead, especially from authors that are also woman of color? I am ready to read/write books were black woman are spotlighted or at the least, standing on the same plane as the rest of the characters in the book. I’m also ready to write about open/poly relationships between a couple that encompass honesty and communication and tackles the trials of multiple lovers together.
This is why I choose to stop reading the book. With the success of Dawesar’s “Babyji,” I expected more from “Mini-Planner” but it’s her first book. I suppose the second time around, you write and you learn. Reading this book just made me want to re-read “Babyji” all over again.