The final book in New York Times’ bestselling author Mary Monroe’s celebrated “God” series — including God Don’t Like Ugly, God Still Don’t Like Ugly, God Don’t Play, God Ain’t Blind, and God Ain’t Through Yet — opens with a gripping newspaper headline which reads: “Local Woman Arrested in Worldwide Child Porno Ring.” The account that follows of a middle-aged child-care provider, Harrietta, accused of participating in the sexual abuse and distribution of graphic images of young children, delivers a tense and compelling backdrop that the novel sadly fails to sustain.
When we meet Annette Goode Davis, the protagonist of Monroe’s six part series, it is eight months prior to the news story that opens the novel. A survivor of sexual abuse herself — a tale which unfolds in the first novel of the series, God Don’t Like Ugly, where she is victimized by the charming and unsuspected Mr. Boatwright (also arguably Monroe’s most well-crafted novel) — Annette is working to reconcile her marriage, which is fractured by infidelities on both sides and by her husband’s ex-lover who now claims to be pregnant with his child.
Into this heady mix, Monroe throws a string of lovers Annette continues to see on the side and best friend Rhoda O’Toole — the adolescent murderer of Annette’s abuser — whose own home-life is in upheaval as she struggles to temper her daughter’s wild and reckless ways (among other shameless acts, O’Toole’s daughter, Jade, chooses to party the night away in night clubs even though her persistent urinary tract infection leads to several accidents). Aside from her occasional incontinence, Jade also attempts to sleep with her mother’s longtime lover, ultimately accusing him of attempted rape. Sheesh! And that’s just the first half of the book!
What Monroe serves with God Don’t Make No Mistakes is an overloaded, chain-variety combo-platter of sex, drama, and remarkably un-suspenseful suspense. There are several strands that emerge over the course of the novel: what makes a “good” marriage, what makes a “good” friend, what it means to be a “good” parent/child, and what it means to be a “good” man/woman. While the novel is clearly interested in determining the moral high ground on all of these issues, the criteria seems thin at best. For instance, while Rhoda’s daughter, Jade, definitely earns her stripes as a top tier bad girl (her advances toward her mother’s lover just one transgression in a slew of bad behavior including at one point slapping her own mom (!)) – it’s difficult to understand her mother’s indignity when, after all, her lover is her husband’s best friend!
Similarly, while Annette’s husband certainly doesn’t help the cause of repairing their marriage by potentially impregnating the woman for whom he originally left Annette, her sense of moral superiority is equally perplexing when she cheated on Pee Wee to start, and continues to see other men as they work toward reunifying their household.
It could easily be argued that Monroe is trying to sketch out the proverbial gray area (the glass houses) that we all live in, and the uncertainty of the human experience, but – if that is indeed the underlying dilemma – it is largely lost in superfluous melodrama and sentimentality.
One of the few moments where any of the characters demonstrate any empathy is when Annette, having just been reunited with her sexually victimized daughter (who runs away because her mom– an abuse survivor – incomprehensibly chooses to ignore her overt cries for help and continues to allow Harietta to baby-sit her) somehow relates her daughter’s ordeal to Rhoda’s decision to frame her own badly behaving daughter, Jade, in an attempt to keep her out of trouble and off the streets by landing her in jail. Positioned as a revelatory moment in the novel, this reversal (until her daughter, Charlotte, runs away, gets involved with a pimp, and ends up in juvenile hall, Annette is pretty judgmental of Rhoda’s plan to entrap Jade) is convoluted, and doesn’t work – least of all because none of these adults seem qualified to make any kind of moral judgments based on their own behavior.
The suspect values system that the characters seem to measure their world against is also evident in the heavy handed disavowal of sex workers and exotic dancers that permeates throughout, framed in numerous scenes as the worst thing anyone could ever be led to do, inextricably linked to childhood trauma or reckless behavior. If you enjoy the cheap highs and lows of daytime drama, stories of moral impunity, and admittedly colorful, if difficult to understand, characters (and who doesn’t sometimes!), give this a fair shot. If not, God Don’t Make No Mistakes might just leave you feeling like you made one.