Synopses & Reviews
Imprisoned after attacking the man who had assaulted his girlfriend, Tonya, Johnny becomes embroiled in an intimate relationship with James, an openly gay fellow convict, finding himself torn between Tonya and his feeling for another man, while Tonya finds comfort in the arms of a rap musician. Original. 17,500 first printing.
"Nero's second outing (after Cheekie), set against the backdrop of New Orleans's pre-Katrina Ninth Ward, deploys three deftly drawn narrators to tell a wrenching story of desire and survival. Tonya, a stripper at Club Circus in the French Quarter, dates a shifty, up-and-coming rapper while her true love, Johnny, a former football star and preacher's son, serves time in an upstate prison for roughing up Tonya's ex. In prison, Johnny meets James, a sassy, educated drag queen from the same side of the tracks, doing time for petty theft. Worlds collide when Johnny admits to his feelings for James and becomes torn between his long-repressed homosexuality and the woman and life he had before. Once on the outside, James and Johnny become tangled in intrigue involving former and potential lovers, parents, friends and the ever-present specters of jealousy, homophobia, spite and simple misunderstanding. Nero has an excellent sense of pacing and nails each character's voice with a distinctiveness that's both illuminating and, by turns, hilarious. He moves easily from drag queen balls to church pews, and though the plot strands are tied up too neatly at the end, the book's mold-breaking characters and myriad subplots will hook readers." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A love triangle unfolds in the voices of Johnny, Tonya, and James. Nero creates an utterly compelling narrative while illuminating the social and sexual challenges young urban black people face today.
About the Author
Clarence Nero grew up in New Orleans and earned a B.S. degree at Howard University. His first novel, Cheekie: A Child Out of the Desire, won critical acclaim. He is currently a M.F.A. candidate at Louisiana State University and lives in Baton Rouge.
Reading Group Guide
1. Three Sides to Every Story
takes on many cultural stereotypes, including effeminate gay men, angry black women, and ruthless drug dealers, to name a few. Were any ideas you have about particular types of people or situations challenged? If so, how?
2. In Three Sides, author Clarence Nero reminds us that many social and economic forces affect the lives of people living in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. What are some of these forces that the characters contend with?
3. How does materialism influence the characters of Tonya, Johnny, Kojack, or others? Imagine yourself in some of the predicaments in which they find themselves: fresh out of prison, no college education, tempted by the lure of easy money, and so forth. How would you respond? If youve ever been in a similar situation to the characters, what did you do? How did you cope?
4. This novel portrays troubled relationships between parents and their children, whether it is because of abusive parenting, neglect, abandonment, or the untimely death of a mother or father.
Think about the mothers in the novel. Tonyas mother is bitter and violent; Kellys mother is a drug addict; Johnnys “sophisticated” mother submits to her husbands bullying. “Mother” Pandora St. Craft—the male leader of the House of St. Craft, a nonbiological family of gay people—might be considered the finest example of motherhood in the book. What can Pandora teach some of the other mothers who appear in the novel? What can these families referred to as “houses” teach us about family?
5. Think about the recent frenzy surrounding “down-low” men and the misconception that they are the main culprits for the spread of HIV in the African American community. When Tonya discovers that she is HIV-positive, she presumes that Johnny must be the source of her infection because he is gay. It turns out that Johnny is HIV-negative and that Tonyas other ex-boyfriend, Rico - a straight and very promiscuous hip-hop star - has probably infected her. How does Tonyas infection challenge generalizations about HIV transmission in the African American community (and, furthermore, in all communities)?
6. Homophobia runs rampant in the community portrayed in Three Sides; Reverend Lomacks fire-and-brimstone religious beliefs, Kojacks anti-gay actions, Tonyas accusation, and Johnnys self-loathing are all forms of homophobia. Some critics point out that in light of such homophobia, it is no wonder that black men who have sex with other men are scared to come out. What responsibility should communities take for creating a climate in which gay or bisexual men—fearing for their safety and their lives—pretend to be straight or try to become straight?
7. Johnnys secret desire for other men is central to Three Sides to Every Story, but it is not the only secret in the novel. Others keep secrets too: Reverend Lomack of the attempted “exorcism” of his five-year-old son, James of his acquaintance with Tonya, Tonya of her fling with Rico, and Johnny of Pandoras illness, to name a few.
Are there times when people should keep a secret at any and all costs? When should one break a vow or come clean? Consider, for example, that Johnny vowed to keep Pandoras illness a secret. This promise placed Johnny in a bind. On the one hand, he could keep the vow he made to Pandora. This would protect James from the painful knowledge that his mentor was deathly ill, but it would also keep James from seeing Pandora in what might have been Pandoras final days. On the other hand, Johnny could have broken his promise to Pandora and disclosed the illness to James. There is no simple solution to this predicament. What would you have done, and why?
8. Fueled by pain, anger, distrust, and frustration, many of the characters in the novel spend a lot of time reacting to each other with their words and actions. Yet its only toward the end of the novel, when Johnny and Tonya are honest with each other and are forced to chill out because both James and Tonya are in the hospital, that their lives seem to take a very different direction. What is the author showing in the novel about the effects of people reacting angrily toward one another versus being calm and still?
9. Much of New Orleans - particularly poor, predominantly African American communities - was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Though Three Sides is a work of fiction, it is inspired by real people and lives, and it serves as a testament to the community devastated by this disaster. Imagine how the individual characters in the novel might be affected by Katrina and how they would cope as survivors. Take into account the specific aspects of their lives and lifestyles.
10. Three Sides touches upon many important social concerns: the spread of AIDS, domestic violence, homophobia, injustice in the criminal justice system, drug abuse in poor and African American communities, even high blood pressure among black Americans. Jot down some of the issues examined in the book and consider them in relation to current events.