Central Booking — PLATINUM: A Novel By Aliya S. King
In late June, I decided to launch a new section on Sicka Than Average called "Central Booking." In this section, we'll cover some new book titles (and, at times, some classic literary works), and we'll go beyond the pre-approved, canned verbiage of press releases and book jackets, instead offering you candid, insightful tidbits about each title's strengths and weaknesses — from the plot's execution to the characters' development and the literary tools employed. Readers are, of course, welcome to leave their comments here, BUT I'm also launching a discussion section on Sicka Than Average's Facebook page — that way, when you're done reading the featured book (whether it's in a day, a week, or several months later), you can participate in a conversation about it, ask any lingering questions, and share thoughts with other readers. Call it the Sicka Than Average book forum, if you will.
Now, let's get to the sparkling gem of the day: Aliya King's debut novel, Platinum.
I'll start with a disclaimer: I adore Aliya S. King. Adore her! We've worked together quite a bit over the years — when I was an Associate Editor at VIBE, and she was already a successful full-time freelancer (it was during this time that she penned the story on rappers' wives that served as the catalyst for Platinum); when she was a contributing editor at Upscale magazine, and she assigned me a piece on dating in the digital age; and, most of all, when I was the Features Editor at GIANT, and I kept Ms. King busy with cover stories and features. I was always blown away by Aliya's writing prowess — not just by her dexterity with words or her uncanny ability to elicit the most searing confessions from her interview subjects (a particular interview with Joss Stone comes to mind), but by her versatility, how she could adjust her tone as needed. She could adopt a very snarky, testosterone-fueled point-of-view for a piece in King, then shift gears for a research-heavy, investigative piece on Malcolm Shabazz for GIANT, then embrace her inner diva for a relationship-centered piece for Upscale. Over the years, she became one of the most well-known female writers in urban publishing. And here's the icing on the cake: Aliya wasn't one of those females who seem to enjoy alienating other women. She has never treated other women in the industry as threats (as is so often the case) — in fact, she's done the very opposite: mentoring young female writers, dispensing valuable advice, presenting them with opportunities, and generally serving as their patron saint. To say she's been inspiration for me would be an understatement. This girl is the real deal, folks. When I finished Platinum and read through the acknowledgments, I was stunned to find my name in there. I literally got choked up at the fact that she even remembered me when writing those acknowledgments. Like I said: real deal.
On to Platinum.
Juicy, salacious, unpredictable, and fast-paced, Platinum offers readers a peek at the lives of hip-hop girlfriends and wives. If you're in the industry or you keep a close eye on what happens in the hip-hop world, you're bound to see some similarities between the characters depicted in the book and some real-life performers, editors, producers, and writers. Any parallels that exist will only further your curiosity: you'll want to keep reading to see if the characters act like the people on whom you speculate they might based — and, if they don't, you'll wonder if Aliya just dreamed up the plot twist or if she's privy to some undisclosed information about the people on whom these characters were based. Any fiction-to-reality parallels, then, just heighten the thrill of reading the book (and fuel some interesting discussions with other speculating readers).
The action revolves around five female characters whose lives are intertwined in some capacity. The central character, Alex Maxwell, is a seasoned journalist who is engaged to marry an on-the-verge rapper (a fact that she's managed to keep hidden from nearly everyone) and who has been tapped to ghostwrite the memoir of Cleo Wright, a Superhead-esque video vixen who claims to have bedded almost every performer, producer, manager, publicist and lackey in the music industry (and who wishes to name them all and, in the process, destroy both their reputations and family lives). Though she's disgusted by Wright's actions and her questionable motives for penning such a damaging memoir, Maxwell is offered a hefty sum to complete the book and so she agrees to take on the assignment. Around the same time, she's assigned a feature story for VIBE magazine about the wives of some of the most visible rappers in the game: what they do with their time, how they cope with unwanted media attention, how they deal with accusations of infidelity (or, worse, with proof of their infidelity), whether they'd trade the money in for more time with their husbands, how they handle the attention their husbands get from groupies, and more. As word of Cleo Wright's tell-all spreads, these rapper wives and girlfriends begin to panic about whether or not their partners are featured in the book — and, if so, how many unseemly secrets are revealed. The two stories, then, begin to overlap and Maxwell is left to sort out her feelings about her role in the chaos.
One of the women who Maxwell has to interview for her VIBE piece is Beth Saddlebrook, a white woman from West Virginia who is married to Z, a talented rapper whose gripes with crack abuse are well-documented. Not only must Beth keep an eye on Z to ensure he remains clean and sober, but she has to silently suffer the indignities of his infidelities (which he very selfishly flaunts in the media), all the while raising their four children and taking care of the household. To most outsiders, Saddlebrook is a pathetic, prideless doormat, but she's relentless in her commitment to her family and her husband, dismissing the criticism of others and insisting no one should judge what they can't understand.
Then there's Josephine Bennett, a refined, upper-class Dominican woman married to Jamaican mega producer Ras Bennett. Rather than live a life of leisure, Bennett decides to launch her own bridal fashion line, treating the venture line a full-time job. And, just as she begins to make strides with her collection, she learns that some of her marriage's seams have come undone: he's had a long-term affair with another women, one for whom he has deep feelings.
And last, there's Kipenzi Hill, the golden girl of R&B. A wealthy performer with countless endorsement deals and her very own paparazzi posted outside her swanky Manhattan residence, Hill is considering an early retirement in hopes of restoring some normalcy to her life. After decades of wearing stilettos and weaves, of traveling to five countries in a week, and of watching her figure obsessively, she's ready to hang low, relax, and prepare for a new chapter as a wife and mother. The wife part, of course, would involve marrying her long-time boyfriend Jake, a platinum-selling rapper and an executive at a music label. Though the two have been involved for practically a decade, they've never publicly acknowledged their relationship. Marriage would, of course, involve disclosing their relationship to the outside world and, hopefully, grant them the piece to walk hand-in-hand outside.
As Alex Maxwell works to get her interviews with these rappers' wives, she finds herself wondering how much they know about their husband's extramarital activities with Cleo Wright (if they do exist, that is), why those who know of their infidelities choose to stay in their relationships, and how she would react if she were to discover that her own fiance had betrayed her.
Nothing is quite as it seems in this twisting and turning tale of music, sex, fame, lies, betrayal and love — Public personas and private lives collide, and no one is quite certain of what's real and what's simply a facade.
I won't give too much away, but I'll throw out some names that came to mind as I read the book: DMX, Superhead, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Aaliyah, Chris Brown, Rihanna, and Irv Gotti.
A fun, fast-paced summer read, Platinum will have you feeling like Linus with his security blanket, toting it around from place to place 'cause you can't bear the thought of putting it down. Forget Pringles — this is what I call addictive!