My Gingerbread Shakespeare
A sometimes startling puzzle-portrait of a beloved African American poet and playwright, with the full mystical design revealed only in the final pages, My Gingerbread Shakespeare, allows the reader to marvel at the trailblazing legacy, the “move-along” life of fictional Harlem Renaissance writer, Maceo Hartnell Mitchell. It features his first love, Ker-Xavier LaRiviere (Kid LaRiv), a Lincoln Brigade volunteer, a sergeant and section leader in the Spanish Civil War; Ilya Natanovich Varonovsky, a Soviet journalist whom Maceo meets on a writer’s goodwill tour of Asiatic Russia, and encounters again in war-torn Spain; Maël and Matthieu-Pierre Patriarche, French Canadian cousins, a fisherman and a mechanic; Cosimo Alessandro Monterosso, an iconoclastic Italian filmmaker, who enlists the poet as a Neorealist screenwriter; and perhaps Maceo’s greatest love, the dashing singer and actor Duncan Thaddeus (D.T. Sweetie) Metcalfe, who weaves in and out of his life, the “Dark Gable” who surprises his fans by becoming an impassioned Civil Rights activist.
This multi-layered novel is likewise enlivened by the voices of Maceo’s revered actress mother, “Lady Viola,” the subject of his most celebrated poem; his bossy, bi-racial grandmother “Queen Cascabel” who lords over Maceo’s hometown of Pecora, North Carolina; Ivich, a Cambridge poetry scholar with a long-kept secret connection to Maceo, who grows up in the turbulent Far East as a “Shanghai Russian”; Cully Butler, Viola’s bolstering friend and clandestine acting coach; Maceo’s sister, Delaine, a remarkable sculptor; and his adored nephew, the gifted blues and folk singer Genoa Graham, who seeks love and authenticity in the early panic years of the AIDS crisis, as he makes a pilgrimage to the “realms and islands” of the North Atlantic that altered Maceo’s life forever.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.25 out of 10
Plot/Idea: Maceo is a fictionalized Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright whose life and loves are presented here as a "puzzle-portrait," with each section easily serving as a standalone short story. The novel is composed of entertaining vignettes to be pieced together for the full tale, resulting in an intriguing, fast-paced plot.
Prose: Cassells writes lyrically, though at times it feels as if the dialogue carries on too long, making the story read more like a play than a book. Shakespeare references abound, and Maceo is both a poet and playwright—two elements that support the book's distinctive structure.
Originality: The book's design—a puzzle-portrait to to piece together the life of an intriguing man—is an interesting take, and Cassells's style elevates the storytelling.
Character/Execution: Cassells employs several different narrators and characters, and, in combination with the time jumps, that choice makes it challenging to track the story's main relationships. The book's exploration of important themes—namely sexuality and colorism—makes the relationships satisfyingly complex, even if readers never fully connect with individual characters.
Date Submitted: August 01, 2023