"The Million Dollar Divorce"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 19, 2004)
Nate Kenny, an African-American business entrepreneur, seemingly has it all: success, wealth, intelligence, youth, health and a wonderful marriage to his beautiful wife Monica. The only element missing in Nate's life, is what he has always wanted most - children. When Nate and Monica married, almost four years ago, he wanted to have kids right away. At age 36 he was more than ready to begin a family. His new wife, in her late 20s, was finally able to persuade him to postpone pregnancy for 3 years so they would have time alone together, to savor each other's company before taking on the responsibilities of parenthood. Three years later they learn that Monica cannot conceive. However, the doctors tell the couple, she would have been able to have children if she had attempted to immediately after their marriage.
Monica, who wants a family very much and adores her husband, is devastated. Nate, however, is enraged, and acts as if Monica has purposefully thwarted his life's dream. He blames her for her failure to conceive, totally ignoring her terrible pain and the cruel impact of his rejection. From his point of view, he married Monica, who he loved, because he believed she would make the perfect wife and mother. She has certainly surpassed his expectations as his wife - but she is batting zero as a perspective Mom. And Nate wants what he wants - all of it! He believes the only solution to his problem is a divorce. After consulting his attorney, he discovers that since he began his new and thriving business after his marriage, a divorce settlement would mean splitting $60 million dollars with his spouse. He is not willing to do this. The only allowance in their prenuptial agreement that would release him from such a huge settlement would be if Monica were unfaithful. And that would be impossible. Or would it?
On the other side of town, the nastier side, Lewis Waters is desperately trying to figure out how to bring in enough income to prevent his live-in girlfriend from prostituting herself. He and Serena live in the Ida B. Wells Housing Project with their small daughter, Layla, who Lewis adores. Serena is pregnant again and looks as if she may be using drugs...again. Lewis is not making enough money as a barber to keep his head above water. He is desperate to save his daughter from a life like her mother's.
In a quirk of fate, Nate Kenny and Lewis Waters meet and become diabolically involved in each other's lives. Lewis, with no auto insurance, collides with Kenny's expensive luxury vehicle, totaling it. At his wits end, Lewis finally agrees to accept Nate's proposal - a brainstorm Nate managed to come up with at the auspicious moment of the accident. Nate will let Lewis off the hook for causing the crash, plus he will give Lewis a substantial sum of money, a new wardrobe, loan him a classy vehicle and a beautiful apartment in the best area of town. All Lewis has to do in return is seduce Monica.
I thought at times, during the initial chapters, that the plot was much too contrived, especially the character of Nate Kenny. As I became more involved, however, the entire convoluted, bizarre storyline became totally believable. It all meshed. And the characters turned three-dimensional as the author fleshed them out. There are many minor characters, whom I have not discussed, that play important roles in The Million Dollar Divorce. RM Johnson brings them to life and really gives them motives and souls. It is not difficult to like or to really hate some of these people. Mr. Johnson also manages to juggle various subplots without distracting from the primary story. There is a dark, edgy feel to this novel, which gives it depth. The author paces his narrative well, building the tension effectively. I had never read anything by Mr. Johnson before and will certainly seek more of his work out now. Highly recommended.
- Amazon readers rating: from 83 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Million Dollar Divorce at SimonSays.com(back to top)
(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 19, 2004)
Livvy, defying her mother's warnings, purposely gets herself pregnant while still in high school. Naturally the boy doesn't stick around once she tells him her good news. Nevertheless, despite being thrown out of her mother's rundown apartment, Livvy proceeds with her plans and gives birth to not one, but to two girls, Hennessy and Alizé, whom she manages to raise quite successfully in Chicago.
Though the twins look alike, these girls have completely different personalities. "Where Hennessy was confident about her intelligence, Alizé was confident about her looks. The child had grown breasts, it seemed, before she grew teeth, and she was proud of that. She'd started wearing a bra when she was ten, makeup when she was eleven, and clothing that made men think she was twice her age when she was fourteen. Whereas the most important thing to Hennessy was her education, Alizé didn't care. The only thing important to her was how men felt about her, how much attention -- and whatever else -- she could get from them."
The girls are now close to their 18th birthday. Hennessy will be going to college in the fall and has a job at the local library. Alizé is basically irresponsible, more concerned with her looks, meeting boys and hanging with her girls than anything else. Livvy works as a nurse's assistant in a local hospital -- a job that has enabled her to provide the basics for her daughters but one that is not satisfying; she'd rather be a nurse. She's been in a relationship with Carlos Tillman, "a beautiful medium-dark-skinned man, with fine, wavy hair," for the past eight years but now that Carlos has made it in real estate he seems to have less time for Livvy. Rumor has it that he's seeing other women but Livvy refuses to believe this. Though why she doesn't is anyone's guess. Carlos is clearly in the habit of breaking dates, by not showing up at all or just not showing up in time to do anything except head for the bedroom. And Livvy's resolve to stand up to him fails whenever she sees him.
Alizé, not burdened with other skills, has finely honed dating criteria and as we see, can humiliate any boy who can't afford her. So of course, she constantly nags on her mother about how Livvy lets Carlos treat her. Livvy's best friend also points out Carlos failings and decides to do something about it -- she takes Livvy to a club with the purpose of finding her an older man, a sugar daddy. On their first night out they do meet Wade driving his fancy car, a perfect target.
Meanwhile, there is another key character. Rafe has just been released from prison for selling drugs. It's easy to see that Raphael is a good guy and intends to stay out of trouble. As luck would have it, his parole officer has a job for him right away and his aunt has a room available in her upscale boarding house. But it also seems that good things get complicated easily. For example, he goes to the library and sees Livvy but unfortunately for Henny, Ally walks into the library and picks up on Rafe's interest in Hennessy. Ally assumes that her sister isn't interested and goes to introduce herself. But this bit of female trouble is nothing compared to who he discovers that he is working for. Though Rafe tries to play his parole straight, he's finding it more and more difficult.
Meanwhile, Wade turns out to also be a nice guy (except he's not so honest about his financial situation) and offers some good advice to Livvy. Advice that means that it is time for Livvy's girls to go on their own so she can downsize and go back to school to get the job she really wants. Easy enough for Hennessy who has plans, but for Alizé this means she needs some serious cash or else she'll be sleeping on her mama's pullout sofa. Ally's plan involves her girls and the only skill she knows -- wagging her big ass and enticing men.
The plot has many layers and overlaps as each character does his or her thing with everyone and everything being interconnected in the end. As the reader we know things ahead of some characters and at other times are just as surprised as the character. Thick with comings and goings, the books reads at a good pace and delves into some interesting social issues -- worthy choice for any book club discussion -- that is if your reading group can handle sex being discussed like dinner food. Somehow, this writer manages to get at the heart of dating, letting the characters express their true thoughts without crossing the line into uncomfortable tantalizing bedroom scenes. It's bold, for sure, but not offensive.
The language takes a bit to get the hang of, at least for this older white "girl." In the beginning when Livvy is discussing Carlos, she tells us that , "Carlos had called yesterday and apologized for faking the last two times he was supposed to have taken her out." Even taking this within context I wasn't sure what "faking" meant until later when I realized that it is equivalent to lying. The dialog is poetic and smart and new. All the more reason that I have to recommend that you try this book or at least this author. This is what makes reading so much fun.
- Amazon readers rating: from 41 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Dating Games at SimonSays.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Harris Men (1999)
- Father Found (2000)
- The Harris Family (2001)
- Love Frustration (2002)
- Dating Games (2003)
- Do You Take This Woman (August 2006)
- Stacie & Cole (December 2007)
Million Dollar Books:
- The Million Dollar Divorce (September 2004)
- The Million Dollar Deception (September 2008)
- The Million Dollar Demise (September 2009)
Movies from books:
- The Harris Family (1999)
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- The official website for RM Johnson
- On the Same Page interview with RM Johnson
- Read an excerpt from Dating Games
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About the Author:
RM Johnson was born in 1968 and grew up in Chicago. He graduated high school in 1986 and from there, enlisted in the US Army. He spent five years in the service both stateside an abroad.
After leaving the military, he started college a the age of 23. Though he started out in film at Columbia College, he decided he was more interested in writing after a creative writing class. He decide to learn a skill that would support him while he worked at being a novelist. He changed his major to science, majoring in Radiologic Technology; he became certified as a Radiation Therapist from Howard Univesity in 1994 and graduated from Northeast Louisiana University in 1995 with his degree in science.
He worked briefly at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Il as a radiation therapist, then left and moved into his mother's basement to start his first novel, which was competed in 1996 and was sold in 1997. The Harris Men was released in 1999 to critical claim and since then he published a new book each year.
Johnson lives in Chicago and seems to have moved from his mother's basement.