July 1999


By Eric Jerome Dickey
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Cheaters is a 368-page Jerry Springer moment. Both of Dickey’s main characters, Chante and Stephan, are poster children for dysfunctional people. Stephan is a self-described player although his game is a bit off. In fact, he gets caught at his own game and finds out what the wrath of a woman scorned can be. Chante, on the other hand, finds herself in between being dumped and being the other woman. Needless to say, these two misfits meet, feign disinterest, and fall rapidly into fledgling, drama-packed romance. The secondary characters are particularly intriguing. Dawn is an unsupportive wife. Darnell is her misunderstood husband and a struggling writer. Tammy is a creative spirit who captures Darnell’s imagination. What will happen? Will Darnell and Tammy cheat? Why? Why not? Readers will want to find out. Dickey’s best attribute is his ability to effortlessly capture the language of the Hip Hop generation. For example, after visiting a museum with Stephan, Chante says, We checked out Rhapsodies in Black, a phat [superb] showcase of art from the Harlem Renaissance. It’s this almost perfect intonation in this case, the right balance between colloquial and proper speech that makes Cheaters feel and sound real. Also, unlike many of his contemporaries, Dickey doesn’t rely on cheap tricks like placing Chante in designer clothing to signal her social status. Instead, we get class-based tension between Chante and her friend Karen, which allows for a richer narrative.

While Dickey opens interesting doors, readers are not always pulled through them a slight frustration. Issues such as class and cast are mentioned but not aptly dealt with. Still, Mr. Dickey didn’t set out to formally address such serious issues. Instead, Cheaters reads like a beach book it’s fun, full of raunchy behavior and great one-liners. One hopes real people don’t be have so badly. But, this reviewer will admit, it’s enjoyable to read about characters who do. Jerry Springer would gladly pay these characters to be on his show.

Crystal Williams is a poet in Ithaca, New York.

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By Eric Jerome Dickey
ISBN 9780525943860

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