No crocodile tears here!

In this 2021 literary thriller by S.A. Cosby, we meet two very different men brought together by the murder of their sons. These two fathers, Ike Randolph (Black, a former convict, and a business owner) and Buddy Lee Jenkins (white, also a former convict but an alcoholic who is not really financially viable), join in seeking to solve a possible hate crime and enact vengeance too. The victims were Isiah and Derek–married, gay, and interracial. It gets pretty wild from there: vandalized graves, some arson, blackmail, guns, and more. And, of course, these two men need to deal with their own biases and stereotypes. Can they even work together?

Jennifer: I have to start here. You texted me while you were reading the book to tell me–I’m paraphrasing–you liked it, but you couldn’t imagine that I did. Before I tell you whether I did or didn’t, may I ask what made you say that?

Lara: So many reasons. You don’t typically read thrillers. I don’t think you would classify it as Art with a capital A. The violence, the language, none of it is conservative… really at all. 

Jennifer: Yeah, maybe not Art. But maybe it is . . . I’ll be a bit generous. I’ll tell you what: I’d say this was literary fiction still. It was character-centric. It was rich in terms of language. I could argue that these characters are all stereotypes (see below, and I will)–but they’re very colorful, vibrant stereotypes. Actually, this book really wasn’t my thing, but I wouldn’t toss it into the heap with . . . um . . . The Da Vinci Code or that greater evil, The Bridges of Madison County.

Lara: Ha! So generous! In fairness. Bridges was atrocious. But the movie was really good!

Jennifer: Look who’s generous now?

One thing that may or may not be deliberate is that the characters, while combating their biases, are also pretty much affirming stereotypes. This kinda bugged me. We’ve got your basic stereotype of the Classic White Trash/Redneck/Trailer Trash (we could probably come up with many other unsavory epithets). We have some lowlife bikers. We have hypocritical, rich white dudes. Women that can best be described as “broads.” I mean, in arguing against stereotypes, Cosby uses a lot of them. What do you think?

Lara: I actually liked that this book, even if it’s filled with stereotypes, showed how people like Buddy Lee and Ike (who were close-minded, homophobic, and transphobic) could learn that their sons, and other people like them, were worthy of love and acceptance. And I am thinking this message, in this book, is going to reach even more people who need to hear it. I think Cosby did a great job in crafting complex father- figures who really struggled with their beliefs/preconceived notions about what it means to be LGBTQIA and that this made them REALLY flawed, funny, cringy, annoying, redemptive humans. Do you think Ike and Buddy Lee’s journey was redemptive? 

Jennifer: I don’t, really. I wish I could say that I did.

And even the coming-to-terms with their sons was a tad too predictable . . . The bad dads learn their lessons. 

And redemptive?

Well, how shall I put it without giving away the end?

Lara: With the amount of LGBTQIA kids who don’t have supportive home lives, who are more likely to contemplate suicide, or who die by suicide more than non-LGBTQIA children, the predictable turnaround is fine for me. We need families turning it around–or here’s an idea–LOVING YOUR CHILD NO MATTER WHO THEY TURN OUT BE. 

Here was a great moment between Ike and a person he met during the story that I can’t say too much about for fear of spoilers, but I liked this:

“I ain’t gonna lie and say I get you, because I don’t. I can’t even pretend I know what it must be like to be… you. But if all this has taught me one thing, it’s that it ain’t about me and what I get. It’s about letting people be who they are. And being who you are shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

But you’re right, redemptive isn’t the right word–you are right. And we don’t want to give the ending away, but I will say, Ike and Buddy Lee grew. There was true character development. And that elevates this from a standard genre thriller to a more literary thriller. 

Jennifer: Lara, you’re going to do this right this second. You will be our cultural educator. Please tell our readers what LGBTQIA stands for. Thank you very much.

Lara: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.

Jennifer: Thank you. 

Yes, they grew

It is, indeed, better than a genre thriller. I would’ve told you that I couldn’t read it had it been. I mean, I just get weary. Don’t forget I loved The Hunger Games (literary dystopian) and I liked The Passengers (literary thriller?).

Lara: Okay, so news flash: The Hunger Games is NOT literary fiction. It’s well-written. It’s engaging, but it’s not literary. You can’t just decide that because you liked it, it’s now literary to fit into your worldview, which requires that you only read literary works. And, neither is The Passengers. Sorry to burst your bubble. But they are both very good. And books can be good and not be literary. I have been trying to tell you this for years. 

Jennifer: I. Beg. To. Differ. Literary is character-centric; genre is plot-oriented. Hunger may be “literary-lite.” Katniss is a pretty standard kick-ass girl. My fave, Haymitch, is unique. The Passengers? Maybe you’re right. I don’t remember a damn person in that book. 

But, like, Stephen King–who desperately needs someone to tell him to cut every book in half–is, in my sometimes-humble opinion, a literary-horror writer. I cannot think of many like him, except maybe Shirley Jackson. 

So you obviously liked Razorblade Tears. Anything you did not like?

Lara: No. I really liked it. I think that Cosby, who I read is a Black man who grew up in Virginia, paints an authentic picture of racism, homophobia, classism, regret, love, and loss. Cosby deftly balances a highly engaging, action-packed thriller with some important life lessons thrown in for good measure.

Jennifer:  Were there any stand-out lines to you? I thought Buddy Lee had some great, tad-too-clever lines that I failed to jot down. I will say that the writing is good in this book. It’s fast-paced, smart, and descriptive. Here’s a gory example:

“Chopping up your first body is disgusting. Your second is tiresome. When you’re doing your fifteenth, it’s all muscle memory.”

Lara: I listened to the book, which makes quote-capturing more challenging. Buddy Lee did have a lot of great quips and I wish I had written them down too. We haven’t talked much about the racism in the book. Ike shines a light on it for Buddy Lee (who is white) and others.

“Listen, when you’re a black man in America you live with the weight of people’s low expectations on your back every day. They can crush you right down to the goddamn ground.”

And after Buddy Lee comments how nice Ike’s truck is:

“Oh, you get the truck. But you also get pulled over four or five times a month because ain’t no way your Black ass can afford a nice truck like this, right? You get the truck but you get followed around in the jewelry store because you know you probably fitting to rob the place, right? You can get the truck but you gotta deal with white ladies clutching their purses when you walk down the street because Fox News done told them you coming to steal their money and their virtue. You get the truck but then you gotta explain to some trigger-happy cop that no, Mr. Officer, you’re not resisting arrest. You get the truck but then you also get two in the back of the head because you reached for your cell phone,” Ike said. He glanced at Buddy Lee.”

Jennifer: I think you’re right. This book revealed a lot. Two former convicts have very different plights because of skin color. 

One writer, José H. Bográn, gave a brief nod to its Quentin Tarantino-esque antics (in The Washington Independent), and I saw other references to its Shakespean and Greek mythological echoes. A bit lofty–but both of us agree that this would make a great movie. It’s filmic. I could see it being good.

Lara: I just looked it up. Paramount has the movie rights. I will definitely go see it. Maybe we could have a movie-outing together!

Jennifer: That would be great! 

What else have you been reading? I think I’m reading less than I usually do in the summer. I’m currently reading Dave Eggers’ The Every, and I kinda love it. It’s like literary fiction à la Social Dilemma and a critique of our inclination to monitor and share our lives via phone/app/social media. I also loved Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth, a bit of epic historical fiction surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. And I read the new David Sedaris, Happy-Go-Lucky, which I totally enjoyed–though I found it more solemn and maybe more sober-minded than his usual fare. Maybe we’re both getting older.

Lara: I feel like I am constantly reading. Let’s see. I read a summer tele-novela type of book, L.A. Weather, by Maria Amparo Escandon. It was perfect for summer. I also read Patrick Raddn Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty about the family that made Oxy and their role in the nation’s opioid crisis. It was fascinating and infuriating and really well-written. I just finished The Plot by Jean Hanff Koreltiz which was great and I want you to read it.I am listening to Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons In  Chemisty and it’s really good. I also just started The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali. Those last two are for book clubs. Oh! And I am reading Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know for a work book club. I am drowning in book clubs. But it’s all good. It’s a self-inflicted book chaos.

Up Next!
Join us as we each share the top five books that CHANGED OUR LIVES! Wowzers. Until then, happy reading!


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