The Making of Dr. Truelove
I finally finished The Making of Dr. Truelove and if you’re a regular BES reader you may have caught some of the intermittent dialogue I have been having with Doret from The Happy Nappy Bookseller about the book. If you haven’t, the gist of our exchanges is that Doret loved the book, and I and Edi from Crazy Quilt did not. Edi says it was the most inappropriate book she had put on her shelves in a long time. Me, I wasn’t as alarmed but as cool as I’m ever going to be, let’s just say, I was not feelin’ the love for the doctor.
To be fair, The Making of Dr. Truelove has a lot going for it. It’s written from the teen male’s perspective and there certainly is a shortage of that on the market, it’s written by an African American male another plus if you care about readers identifying culturally with characters and authors, the story is contemporary and cool, a must if you actually want teens to read it, and it’s also about romance. The main character, Diego is a nice boy who is also very boy and therein lies the basis of what will rub some folks wrong- the testosterone factor. It’s in overdrive and it will likely turn off teachers, educators and some girl readers. Diego is a teen boy, a sixteen year old boy who like most boys is either thinking about sex, trying to have sex or waiting till he can have sex. And the character would not be authentic if he didn’t talk like most teen boys do when they are describing girls, body parts, and their sexual desires and frustrations. And if you want the character to be believable, let’s be sure to have an ample dose of bravado even for the guy who is otherwise sensitive and three dimensional when he is not being BOY.
Now before you think I’m being too sensitive or too critical, I am guilty of using colorful language, I was no one’s teen angel and I’m quite liberal in matters you might not want to think about so it’s not that I can’t appreciate a boy’s crassness. It isn’t that Barnes is simply unnecessarily crass, the problem is that I think he pushes it to the point where it loses its punch and gets just plain tired quick. I was bored. I was annoyed. I found the usage silly. And while each character should have their own voice, the tone of the characters simply didn’t mesh well. Let’s start with my biggest peeve: how crass Diego and J could be. Opening the story with how the tips of your girlfriend’s breasts are perfect like the new eraser tops of pencils isn’t smooth. Not cool. Not funny. Forgivable, yes, but that’s only the beginning. That's the tamest description in the book. Blue balls and firing off enough spunk to father a hundred kids? These aren’t Barnes exact words but that’s the translation. Is it working for you?
On the big night, Diego is more than a little excited. He pre-ejaculates and feels inadequate and embarrassed. Roxy, his beautiful, sensitive, crazy mad for his silly butt girl is relieved (like many girls who love their boyfriends she's agreeing to sex when neither of them are really ready or wanting it), but wounded Diego is too busy feeling deflated to notice. He does what a lot of boys do: avoid the girl whom he thinks doesn’t want to be bothered with a loser boyfriend who can’t make love. Of course avoiding her sends the wrong message. Rejected girl believes she’s been rejected because she’s done something wrong and she doesn’t know how to fix it not that boy gives her a chance because he’s too busy trying to figure out how to get back with a girl who didn’t dump him in the first place.
That’s where the super cool, sexy stud muffin, J the best friend comes in with the brilliant ideal to start a sex column anonymously. Running the column will build Diego’s self-esteem, get hotties for them both till Diego makes his big move on his real girl, and life is full of booty and more punai than a brother can stand. Now an internet column I can buy. Billboards, tee-shirts, news spots and an auditorium full of screaming girls tossing their panties- I can’t suspend that much reality. This is the flavor of the novel, folks. I’m not embellishing it. In fact, I’m toning it down.
Now if the obsession with sex isn’t bad enough, there are Diego’s parents: caricatures beyond belief. Really, at times I was more ticked off with Barnes for making Diego’s parents so ridiculous than I was with the language and sex scenes. The mother is supposed to be a professional. Instead we get this doctor who doesn’t behave at all like a professional, confident , educated woman and Pops, is either stuffing his gut, spewing food or obscenities or trying to stuff his wife (Hey, I’m just trying to keep the tone consistent with the book). J’s parents are non-existent and both boys have sisters who are all sex crazy, too. How’s this working for you?
When Barnes writes Dr. Truelove’s character, he is smooth, cool, intelligent, and Truelove gives sound advice. I think Barnes was stretching beyond his element with the other characters. Most of the book is Comedy Central with tired jokes and lousy timing. It’s like going to see a comedy in the theater, and the best jokes happen the first thirty minutes. By the middle of the book, I just wanted it to end already. Here’s the deal though, Barnes gives me just enough of the good kid, Diego, enough hope the romance will work out and enough of the doctor to keep me going so I throw on a raincoat and mufflers to block out the buffoons in the cast.
Having said all that, I don’t hate the book. I did laugh at the five funny jokes. I get Diego’s insecurities, and I do think he is a sensitive and good guy. I also think Barnes should have heeded the same opinion Diego said about his, Pop: Use a filter, bro. Some folks just have no tact. Don’t let the characters make complete asses of themselves. The crassness was overkill, and it overshadowed a light, funny, cool teen romance. We didn’t need all the language, body oil and ding dong swinging.
I hope Barnes gets a second shot (pun intended) because despite my criticism, I think he can address a gap in teen literature. I think this debut work will appeal to a lot of teens. Like my generation who passed around Forever and snickered at all the good parts, I think a lot of young people would give this a read and hey, if I get a young person who normally doesn’t want to read, to read this, it has some redeeming value. Let’s just hope I don’t get a letter or visit from a not so amused parent.