“Only the Strong” by Jabari Asim
c.2015, Bolden $15.00 / higher in Canada 288 pages
by Terri Schlichenmeyer, OW contributor
Never underestimate yourself.
You can carry the weight of ten worlds on your shoulders, and still have time to do your
job. You can lift spirits, move mountains, and haul out in a hot minute. You have more
power deep inside you than you realize – but, as in the new novel, “Only the Strong” by
Jabari Asim, you still have weaknesses.
Lorenzo “Guts” Tolliver never had reason to show a soft side.
Being soft, in fact, was detrimental to his life and his job as right-hand man for Ananias
Goode, who more-or-less ran Gateway City. Softness wasn’t what you wanted a man to
see as you broke his legs or killed him.
Well over six feet tall and looking like a tank, Guts was deceptively fast of feet and fists,
and Goode something in Guts years ago that he liked. Through the decades, Goode
learned to trust Guts, and he liked him – so when Guts asked to step back as Goode’s
driver-body-guard-enforcer, Goode gave his blessing.
It was, Goode knew, all about a woman.
He knew because he, too, had a woman he wanted but really couldn’t have.
Years ago, when she was just fifteen, Dr. Artinces Noel watched her Mama wither away
from grief, and she promised herself that she’d never fall that in love with a man. She
might have kept her promise to herself – work, charities, her clinic, saving black babies
from death-by-being-poor, those were her life – but then Ananias Goode came around
one night with a stab wound that he wanted quietly stitched. One thing led to another, led
to a regular Wednesday session at a local motel, but they couldn’t let anyone know.
Ananias Goode was still a married man.
Deep inside his well-appointed home, amid whooshing respirators and the smell of
antiseptic, the comatose Mrs. Goode lay curled in a fetal position, a victim of the war her
husband had with another gang, a war that also left her infant son dead. Remembering
that, knowing it, was something Ananias Goode lived with.
And for the man watching him, it was also something Goode would die with…
Wow. Well, here’s the thing: I almost never read a book twice, especially a novel. I’d
definitely make an exception for this one.
The most appealing thing about “Only the Strong,” I think, was that it seemed as though I
lived inside the story itself, and finishing it felt like I’d been evicted. I felt unmoored.
Author Jabari Asim does that: he draws a reader in with richly-worked characters who,
though often despicable, are attention-grabbing; settings that you can almost step right
into; and flashbacks that move the story forward at a perfect pace. That’s the kind of
writing that sometimes makes you forget that you’re reading a piece of fiction. Yep:
Though I generally don’t like to compare authors, Mosley fans will eat this debut novel
right up. It’s noir, it’s fast-paced, it’s hard-hitting, and it’s one you shouldn’t miss. “Only
the Strong” will leave you weak in the knees.