“A few years ago a rhyme came out that started out with this man talkin’ about how in most countries, jail is where they send their failures, but out here, it’s America that’s failed. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t let the courts make me the man they wanted me to be. I’d find another way, some way, to be my own man.” (130)
This was an intoxicating read for me, one that I didn’t want to put down. Told from multiple perspectives spanning two generations, Too Beautiful for Words is the story of a pimp named Jesus from the ghettos of west Oakland, his number 1 ho, Peaches, their son Jason, and a rebellious woman from the Black Panther party named Chianka, whose name means “God Decides.” Chianka is the bridge between the two generations: once a friend to Peaches in the late 70’s when Jason was just a baby, in the 90’s she encourages her friend’s son to recognize that despite his poor and limited upbringing, he has the right and the power to choose his own path for his life despite his father’s urging (through letters written to his son from prison) to encourage him to follow his father’s footsteps. Jason is torn between the two worlds while trying to prove himself on the streets he is touched by Chianka’s knowledge of his mother’s relationship to him.
“He seemed to have developed the soul of a leader and the coping mechanisms of a follower. It was something that I had seen before in our people.” (163)
My life is so far from the lives of these characters, yet I was thoroughly engrossed in their perspective. The narrative voices are totally distinct and believable. Peaches, an uneducated woman who enjoys male attention, worships her Jesus the pimp so much that she feels remorse towards paying her rent with the money she has earned on the streets because it isn’t her money to spend, it belongs to Jesus first. Jesus believes in the rules of the street above all and he honors his hos that follow through with their words and is willing to punish those that break the code of the street. Chianka is an educated woman who believes in breaking the law to disrupt the peace because the laws have been created by the white man to continue the subjugation of the black people. All of these perspectives blend together to portray a picture of African American ghetto culture that is both sad and hopeful, despicable and understandable, all while totally enthralling. Too Beautiful for Words truly stood up to its title.
“I’m not talking about any white man’s rules or religion, either. Brother, I’m talking about the system’s game that you choose to play by following some pimp who’s got all you people convinced he’s God….All I’m saying is that you can choose how you play any game you find yourself in. It’s not about religion. It’s about life choices. Life.” (165)