Thursday, February 16, 2023

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi


Before reading this book, I strongly urge you to check out this author's interview with Trevor Noah via The Daily Show. Regardless of how you feel about the book, it's a very valuable interview because it puts the author's intentions into perspective and talks about how they included some of their own thoughts about love, grief, and art into the book. I also appreciated their love of romance novels (including the old Mills & Boon) and how you can appreciate the oldies for laying the groundwork for the far more feminist- and diversity-friendly contemporary romance novels of today, which give happy endings to people from all walks of life.


I liked the interview and I appreciated what this author sought to do with YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY. But my thoughts on the book ended up being kind of convoluted and not totally favorable. I feel like I always end up feeling this way with Emezi's work. They're a very-- I want to say transgressive author? In that, their works seem like they're supposed to challenge the way you think about society and how it works and make you uncomfortable on purpose. YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY is a romance, but it's not a straightforward one. The heroine, Feyi, is aching from the death of her husband, who she has immortalized and enshrined in art and memory. I'm reading another book right now that also explores these concepts, which is called SOMEDAY, MAYBE by Onyi Nwabineli. Both books show that there is no linear path to love or healing. In SOMEDAY's case, the heroine takes solace from her friends and family. In YOU MADE A FOOL, the heroine turns to sexual release. No one can really hold up, so she hooks up with people who are undemanding and easy, whether it's the pretty party boy, Milan, her own best friend, Joy, or Nasir, the nice guy who seems to think that he can save her from herself, like a charity case.

Nasir ends up trying to woo her by taking her to his family home on a Caribbean island, where it turns out that his father, Alim, is a famous Michelin-starred chef. He's also a bisexual silver fox hottie that Feyi kind of sort of has a crush on, and maybe it's the lipstick and the silver nail polish, or maybe it's the thought of the forbidden, but suddenly this book starts feeling a lot like Katee Robert's YOUR DAD WILL DO, social subterfuge edition. As soon as Nasir leaves the house for an extended period of tim, she's all over his dad like a pan on a stove, and yeah, they do have chemistry and I think he ends up being a stabilizing influence for her and also a safe space because of their shared grief and love of art, but it's way messier than what I bargained for (the sleeping around and unprotected sex and messy queer girl summer stuff, I could stand behind, but going on an all expenses paid trip with your friend you know wants to sleep with you and then doing it with his dad felt kind of... weird). The summary also doesn't really prepare you for the dad-fucking element. "Forbidden" romance could mean anything.

So, here are some things that I liked. The portrayl of queerness and Blackness and the unapologetic sexuality of the main character and her friend. Joy, and the way she tried to hold her friend accountable while also still being supportive of her choices. The message that women don't really "owe" men anything (even though Nasir paid for all Feyi's shit, she didn't owe him sex, or even the truth, really). The line when Alim is like "it's not your house, boy." (Owned.) The food porn and descriptions of the art. The blood thing was very Damien Hirst and the wedding ring thing reminded me of something Tabaimo might do. Neither artist is to my personal taste, but their work is both subversive and disturbing, which I think Feyi would appreciate. The writing is also gorgeous. There's a lot I highlighted while reading. Emezi has a great way with words, and everything is very sensory.

YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH did not really work for me as a romance, and I did not really like the story. I think it's more lit-fic than it is a romance, even though it straddles both genres, and sort of defies categorization. Framing it as an avant-garde work will probably help it find its target audience, as will knowing going in that it's an age gap romance that flies in the face of social convention, and has the heroine hooking up with her friendzoned boy "friend's" dad. 

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

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