Kissing the Underbelly is a brilliant book for many reasons and on many levels. To start with, the voice: sharp, witty and directly to the point. Every word counts and every word fits. The fact that the two co-authors maintained this excellent voice so consistently is noteworthy. They clearly work well together.
Second, this book nails it when describing the extremely timely issues of Wall Street greed and fraud, as well as the nuts and bolts of survival on next to no income. All those books about how to live on a low income during these difficult times? Forget about them! Buy this one instead. It is a real two-for the-price-of-one bargain because you get a fascinating work of fiction to entertain and enlighten you and tucked in among the twists and turns of plot, great dialogue, insightful descriptions of feelings and the overall drama are very real and useful tips about how to live on less.
Third, it offers unique and unusual insights into the very important and timeless issues of class and race. Jonathon Harrington Crossley’s successful parents protected him so completely, he had no clue what being a black man in the United States of America was like for so many other black men until a twist of professional fate lands him in the “Hood” with a white woman. At work he always perceived his employer’s girlfriend as the essence of upper class elegance but it is Marina who turns out to have had the difficult upbringing that makes her so savvy about survival. And, lucky reader, these insights are offered in the context of a romance. Nothing unbelievable but very real and very much what a good, solid, relationship should be about. Here’s a taste:
“She thanked Jonathon for giving her some “space” for all of these months while she figured out who she was and what she wanted. Jonathon hadn’t really been aware that that was what he was doing. For one thing, he always had respected whatever boundaries women put up and this was no different. For another thing, she had simple intimidated him, but he didn’t say so.
“Some nights they talked about the narrow confines of Jonathon’s upbringing. He told her of the pedantic lives his family lived, of how his mother strived to shield him from reality and how that gave him a thirst for what he termed “the real world”
“I guess she never heard of Margaret Burroughs,” Marina commented one night.
“Margaret Burroughs was a black poet. She wrote a famous poem about what to tell black children about the world they live in.”
“I never heard of her.”
“My point exactly. Come to think of it, Jonathon, your mother was an English teacher. She had to have heard of Margaret Burroughs. She didn’t want to tell you of her. She didn’t want you to know the things a black child needs to know in this world. In fact, she didn’t want you to know you were black!” (p.159)
After more discussion when Jonathon opines that there needs to be a middle ground, a balance between his mother’s view of the world (determined not to see the racism that exists) and a co-worker’s view where he saw racism everywhere, a view that Jonathon deemed paranoia, Marina tells him he IS the middle ground and he responds “We’re the middle ground” . . . and the romance begins.
Fourth and lastly, this book is just so real, so authentic, it does more than tell a great story, it does indeed give the gift of experience. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give Kissing the Underbelly a 20.
Sandra Shwayder Sanchez
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