No One in the World by E. Lynn Harris and RM Johnson
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Published on: June 2011
Page Count: 320
Genre: Urban Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook provided to me by the Tantor Audio for review for the Armchair Audies
Audiobook Published by: Tantor Audio
Narrator: Alan Bomar Jones
Audiobook Length: 8 hours
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Winslow Haircare Products is a family owned company. When their parents died in a terrible car crash, Cobi and Sissy Winslow stood to inherit the business as well as their parent’s assets. There is one catch. Cobi, an up and coming attorney, is gay. His adoptive father never approved of his lifestyle. Before his death, he amended his will to require that Cobi be married before he reaches a certain age. Cobi reaches that age within a few short weeks. Winslow Haircare Products are in danger of a take over, so it is vital that Cobi marries to secure the Winslow family’s position. Cobi may not be out of the closet, per se, but he is proud of who he is. He is resistant to the idea, but Sissy insists. She is a natural businesswoman and born leader. She worked side by side with her father, but her position as the head of the company is tenuous. To head her father’s company, she must ensure that Cobi inherits his portion of the estate. When Sissy sets her mind to something, she gets it done and brooks no arguments along the way. On top of his worries about being untrue to himself, Cobi has another shock come his way. It seems that he had an identical twin brother out there somewhere. His parents simply wanted only two children, so his twin remained in foster care. Cobi desperately wants to find him. While Cobi is searching for Eric Reed, Sissy is searching for a suitable wife. Unfortunately, things may not work out as either plans.
No One in the World was written jointly by E. Lynn Harris and R. M. Johnson. I am not familiar with their previous work, but based upon R. M. Johnson’s introduction, Harris was a writer he admired. Harris died at the age of 54 in 2009 and Johnson is clearly proud of their collaboration. This novel has two main themes: living as a gay African American man and living with and without privilege. The combination of these two themes was interesting. Cobi may have grown up with all a child could ever want, but he never had the love and acceptance of his father, who found his homosexuality more than distasteful. It wasn’t just his father’s will and the financial status of Winslow Haircare Products that continue to make it impossible for Cobi to live his life openly after his parents pass away. He is a rising legal star with future political aspirations and his partner, also in politics, is a married man. There was nothing easy about Cobi’s life on Easy Street. Eric may not have had the advantages that Cobi had, but he doesn’t have the secrets. He is who he is. While he may wish he were a better man in some cases, his actions have been motivated by the love of his daughter. The way that these two men who entered life together fit after being reunited is rather interesting.
The key female characters in this novel are also an interesting contrast. Sissy grew up under the tutelage of a powerful businessman. From the little we met of Cobi and Sissy’s father, Sissy looked up to him and patterned her career after his. She is not untouched by the current economic downturn. While Winslow Haircare’s products are a mainstay in the African American community, that is exactly why large companies are interested in consuming them into their brand. After her father died, Sissy expected to step into his role and continue his work. Worried about the future, the board made her position temporary. She had to prove herself as a leader. Sissy is nothing if not up to the challenge. She is also accustomed to getting her way. As such, she expects people to agree with her opinions and to bow down to her will. In many ways, Sissy is downright predatory in her search for Cobi’s “wife.” Austen Greer, one such potential wife, worked hard to make a career in real estate a success. She had much to be proud of. She had made a name for herself without anyone’s help. Unfortunately, the niche she carved for herself in the upscale market has dried up in the economy and she didn’t have a safety net. The combination of Austen’s self-made woman and Sissy’s haughtiness caused a great deal of friction.
Alan Bomar Jones narrated No One in the World. He has a deep, rich voice with some wonderful qualities. His work shines when the characters are in the thick of an especially emotional situation. When they are mad, excited, scared, or simply on the move, he kept me in the moment. He also distinguished the major male and female characters well. When there wasn’t a lot of action or dialog, Jones’ narration felt impatient to me, as if he was doing his best not to rush ahead. This was most noticeable for me during scenes when Cobi was soul searching. I may not have been blown away by his performance, I did enjoy it.
I did have issues with this novel. While by her very nature Sissy is abrasive, her character did not live up to her potential. Because she was never anything more than a way to keep the conflict with the inheritance alive, her character grated on my nerves. My research prepared me for the explicit sex, but its frequency seemed gratuitous at times. By far the most important issue I had with this novel was the ending. There was a great deal of time and attention given within the story to building up to the crisis that will utterly change the Cobi and Eric’s lives. To have it all finish in the course of what seemed like just a few minutes left me unsatisfied. A major decision seemed to have come from out of nowhere. The decision itself couldn’t be considered entirely out of character, but the rashness of that decision certainly was. There’s room for a sequel, but I would have preferred that more time had been devoted to make this novel stand alone more fully.
No One in the World is a fast paced novel that provides insight into the unique difficulties of being a gay man in the African American community. Frequent readers of Literate Housewife already know that Urban Fiction isn’t something I typically read. I can’t compare No One in the World to other books in its genre, but I thought the book was interesting. While I don’t foresee Urban Fiction becoming a mainstay, I liked that the the Audie awards prompted me to experiment.