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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Porsche Santiaga Story

Sister Souljah’s ‘A Deeper Love Inside’

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The Coldest Winter Ever
, published in 1999, established Bronx-born orator/educator/organizer/essayist Sister Souljah as a first-rate novelist. The book set a standard for urban/street literature still unmatched. Its sociopathic narrator-protagonist Winter Santiaga tested readers’ sympathy but still commanded their rapt attention, thanks to Souljah’s gripping prose.

Fourteen years later, Souljah now gives voice to Winter’s younger sister, Porsche. A Deeper Love Inside (Emily Bestler/Atria) is Porsche’s narration of her life from ages 10 through 17. In the first sentence, Souljah lets us know we’re dealing with an ego at least as gargantuan as Winter’s: “Not every b**** is a queen.” Top that, Ishmael. In the following hundred-or-so pages, Porsche’s voice switches dramatically from the mature to the infantile, the enraged and the delusional. Her story is deceptive, forcing one to read against the narrative, and it works for a while.

Born fabulously rich and incarcerated before her 11th birthday, Porsche survives the horrors of foster care systems and the prison industry. She tries to hide her agony, but her frequent tears give her away. Her attempts to emulate her older sister in manipulating people succeed briefly. She makes the acquaintance of a politically astute, older white girl and, later, an intriguing Seneca elder who helps Porsche channel her energy and imagination constructively. Souljah packs A Deeper Love Inside with plenty more such promising characters.

With such rich raw material, there’s no excuse for the wretched editorial state of this book. Quotation marks are abused to aggravating excess. “Would of” appears repeatedly, even in non-dialect passages, and sometimes even the embarrassing “would’ve of.” The punctuation often suggests fistfuls of errant keystrokes. Random sentences are set in boldface for three consecutive pages.

The mistakes don’t abate with Porsche’s growth; they rear up irregularly to distraction. Phrases of little consequence are repeated. Speaking voices are jumbled by careless paragraphing. Numerous names are misspelled (including the protagonist’s).

Structural and stylistic problems threaten the story fundamentally. At one of the critical moments a taxicab is hailed, but why? The characters involved have a working, inconspicuous car. An “expensive parking lot” is chosen—what for? The cab has departed.

At another pivotal moment, the narrative fragments severely and the story derails. Granted, Porsche’s mental state is fragile, but the prosaic problems don’t correspond with her emotional condition. Then there’s just plain bad writing: “Easily he eased me out of my skirt….”

Somehow Souljah reins the beast back in and restores coherence to the writing. A Deeper Love Inside becomes a white-knuckle thriller, every chapter ending in riveting suspense, until page 311, when it all falls apart again. Years are compressed into nondescript paragraphs, major forensic details forgotten and essential characters appear and disappear as if Souljah has lost interest in them. Porsche’s adored father, one of her stated reasons for living, comes and goes with only passing comment.

The book’s ridiculous fairytale ending has all the redeeming social value of a Justin Bieber video. The explicit message, reinforced by several meta-messages, appears to be: Fight long and hard for what’s yours, girls, so you’ll be good and ready when Patriarch Charming comes to rescue you. This bizarre conclusion makes sense only if the entire tale takes place inside Porsche’s mind.

Such a reading, however, would trivialize the nuance and detail of Souljah’s prose and nullify the humanity of her characters. If we are to accept the story literally, we have to wonder whether Porsche has changed at all. The love she professes to have discovered seems rooted in fame, material gain and premature procreation.

Nevertheless, those who connect positively with A Deeper Love Inside will find plenty of artfully written prose and they will forgive the multitude of compositional blunders. Souljah has written many splendid scenes of riveting action, stirring suspense and imaginative yet believable dialogue. There are many well-constructed characters of radically varying ages and backgrounds. It’s a shame their collective experience ultimately appears dumped by the literary roadside.

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