cover image When All Hell Breaks Loose

When All Hell Breaks Loose

Camika C. Spencer, Author Villard Books $19.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-375-50340-5

A young black man's family, friends and future are at the center of Spencer's thin contemporary debut novel. After three years of dating, Dallas hairdresser Adrian Jenkins agrees to marry Gregory Alston, a successful computer consultant. Narrator Gregory shares his good fortune with his church-going younger sister, Shreese, and his father, Adolphus, who raised Greg and Shreese alone, after his wife, Louise, left the family years ago to pursue her jazz career in Europe. Upon hearing the news, Louise returns immediately to the U.S., taking up residence in her former home and rekindling her relationship with Adolphus. While reacquainting himself with his mother, Greg also watches the developing relationship between Shreese and the Reverend Ulan Dixon, a slick and suspect preacher. Though Greg resents the way his mother abandoned the family, his anger begins to fade as he begins to understand her motivation. Meanwhile, Greg's relationship with Adrian deteriorates when Adrian's maid of honor, Carla Perrone, arrives in town. Carla begins to date Greg's best friend Tim, which bothers Adrian in a way Greg can't understand. The novel climaxes with two simultaneous crises, in which Dixon pulls off a cruel swindle and Greg makes a shocking discovery about Adrian's sexual orientation. Foreshadowing is heavy, so the pivotal discovery is not as surprising as it should be, and Greg's first-person narration is excessively sprinkled with brand names and popular references. Spencer's enthusiasm for her story is clear, but fuller characterizations and a more nuanced take on sensitive issues would have greatly improved an otherwise ordinary novel. Author tour. (Sept.)