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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

My Soul to Keep
by Tananarive Due
HarperCollins
ISBN 0-06-018742-5
346 pp/$24 US

Tananarive Due keeps you reading. Her ability to weave the magic carpet of a story from the threads of her imagination -- with appealing characters as the warp and easily acceptable supernatural elements as the woof -- gives readers a delightfully satisfying ride in this, her second novel.

My Soul to Keep opens with a 30ish man administering euthanasia to his elderly daughter in a nursing home. The man is Dawit, an Abyssinian "Immortal" almost five centuries old. Now known as David, he is married to Jessica, a reporter for a Miami newspaper. David is the perfect father and lover, perhaps a bit too possessive to be a truly "nineties kinda guy," but his good looks, brilliance, and charisma tend to offset this flaw for his wife.

The plot thickens as Jessica investigates disgraceful conditions in nursing homes and is offered a book deal with friend and fellow writer Peter. Feeling threatened, David coldly murders Peter. Killing to protect himself and the secret of The Immortals has always been a guiltless act for David/Dawit. But now, with his genuine love for Jessica and Kira, their five-year-old daughter; and with centuries of loss behind him, Dawit finds his everlasting life and superhuman attitudes changing.

Dawit is the ultimate outsider --the consummate actor who plays the role of human to perfection, but can never be what he appears. One motif furthering this theme is the protagonist's love of jazz (lyrics are used as epigraphs for each section), part of the rich and painful history of blacks in America. Dawit, because of his longevity, embodies that experience, one that parallels the "outsider-playing-a-role" theme and adds richness to the fiction.

Despite his idiosyncrasies, Dawit has crowd-appeal as well. Here is a character lovers of Anne Riceian vampires should swoon for. He is dangerous and perhaps evil -- but heroic and sensual as well. Angst-ridden and suffering immortal ennui, he still has a redeeming "goodness." And, unlike Rice's Lestat and Louis, this Immortal hasn't had to give up such mundane satisfactions as sex and sunlight.

Jessica sometimes seems naive, but Due's portrayal of her love and loyalty to her family resonates with a genuineness that counteracts this. At times, My Soul to Keep is almost a paean to African-American middle class family values, making the novel's characters believable and endearing. Jessica's credible modern Christianity (a feat in itself to write) and belief in eternal life after death provide poignancy, depth and drama to this story dealing with the premise of mortality.

My Soul To Keep is suspenseful, even harrowing, though it tends occasionally toward the melodramatic -- though good stories often are a bit melodramatic, in the end. A page-turner of originality and intelligence, Due's novel should appeal to horror lovers as well as readers who think King and/or Rice are the only synonyms for the term "horror writer." It should also appeal to those black readers who heretofore have not been horror fans. Take my advice: Learn how to pronounce and spell the name of one of the brightest hopes of the dark side of fiction -- Tananarive Due. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.