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The Honey Well.

The Honey Well

by Gloria Mallette Dafina Books, November 2003 $24.00, ISBN 0-758-20468-X

In her new novel, The Honey Well, Gloria Mallette weaves a complex tale full of unexpected plot twists and turns. The two main characters are Esther, known as "Queen Esther" in the brothel she founded and manages in Brooklyn, and her daughter, Arnell.

The story begins when Arnell is a teenager. Unable to pay their rent, Esther works out a deal with her landlord: free rent in exchange for sex with her daughter. Arnell balks initially, but she eventually succumbs to her mother's pressure. It is the beginning of Esther's career as a madam, and Arnell's career as one of her mother's most sought after prostitutes.

Years later, Esther is a rich woman. She owns a Victorian mansion known as "the Honey Well," which houses a number of prostitutes, a chef and a security guard. Though Arnell is financially independent, and no longer technically one of her mother's "girls," she is unable to extricate herself from her past. She longs to refuse Esther's requests that she to return to the Honey Well to service special clients and help her manage the business. But each time she does, Esther threatens to reveal her daughter's past to her fiance, James. Trapped, Arnell allows her mother to prostitute her well into adulthood.

Esther is ruthless. A victim of incest herself, she makes a victim of her daughter, and other vulnerable young women. She is obsessed with money and power, and has no qualms about using others to get them. Abuse of power, manipulation and lies pervade Esther and Arnell's relationship, and eventually spill over into their relationships with others, particularly men, with deadly consequences.

At times, The Honey Well reads like an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, complete with foul language, graphic sex scenes, rape, incest, murder, child prostitution and infidelity. In the end, Arnell frees herself from Esther's grip, and finds true love.

Because Arnell's character is not fully developed, however, it is difficult to understand how she is able to forgive herself and her mother, and transcend her deeply traumatic past. Unfortunately, none of the characters' emotional lives are developed well enough for readers to fully comprehend what motivates their acts of self-hatred and violence. The Honey Well is indeed an ironic title for this oft-sordid story, which could have benefited from fewer violent scenes and more character development.

--Reviewed by Donia Nizabeth Allen Donia Elizabeth Allen has written for Honey and Venus magazines.
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Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Allen, Donia Elizabeth
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:418
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