Not to sound dramatic but I feel betrayed. Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears managed to be gripping and gritty reads that managed to pack an emotional punch. The only nice thing I can say about My Darkest Prayer is that it attests to Cosby having grown as an author. My Darkest Prayer reads like a generic story in the realm of a hardboiled novel that thinks it’s being way smarter and funnier than it actually is. While Cosby’s penchant for snappy and occasionally bombastic metaphors won me over in Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears, here they often struck me as unfunny, over-elaborate, and even puerile (“I felt his thin lips split like a pair of cheap pantyhose”). Yet, maybe I could have accepted a story that reads like it’s trying too hard to tick every box in the Walter Mosley or Kenzie & Gennaro book, with its wannabe sigma protagonist who happens to have a friend who is as dangerous, possibly unhinged (always there when our protagonist is going against the bad bad guys), is a magnet for curvaceous women (maybe one of them needs rescuing after being kidnapped by the baddies), and spends way too much time coming up with or responding to colorful threats that don’t make anyone sound particularly tough or clever or intimidating (au contraire, they sound like they have just moved past the recess jokes stage of their lives). Except that this book’s constant objectification of women got to me. Maybe if this had been published during Raymond Chandler’s days, maybe I might feel more inclined to overlook it, but given that My Darkest Prayer was first published in 2019, I just cannot. Worse still, this book pretends it’s different from the usual hard-boiled or grit-lit reads, with our main guy calling out other men for being sexist pigs. He even tells us: “I tried to adhere to the three-second rule as I watched her walk. If I looked longer than three, I was straying into pervert territory”. My oh my, what a nice guy. Truly not like other men. At one point, he even tells us that he believes that his traumatic past means that he is not like other people.
Anyway, set in a small Southern town, we follow Nathan, a former marine and sheriff’s deputy, who now works at a funeral home, he handles the bodies, and now-and-again teaches the local ‘riffraff’ a lesson or two. After the death of the cherished local minister, his parishioners, knowing that the police won’t properly investigate this, pay Nathan to make sure to discover just what went down. We learn that Nathan’s relationship with the authorities is strained not only due to their general incompetence, but somehow connected to his parents’ deaths. Nathan goes around asking questions, having some physical altercations, which establish him as the sigma man that he says and even becomes involved with the minister’s daughter, who happens to be a ‘sex bomb’ and a pornstar. There are a lot of scenes that can be boiled down to ‘too much testosterone’, with Nathan going on about how muscular he is (he even tells us that unlike other guys he doesn’t do it to gain female attention, further establishing him as the true sigma). He learns that the minister was up to no good and somehow involved with a powerful and dangerous figure.
Way too much page time is dedicated to Nathan’s flexing and his constant objectification of women. If the women are old, forget it, they barely register on his radar (he may note just how scrawny they are). But younger women? Wow. He is a womanizer who isn’t looking to settle down, and these desperate women stand no chance against how smooth and manly he is. It just so happens that most of the women he pursues, has had sex with, or is flirting with (even at the most inopportune of moments, say when the life of someone you care about is at stake), are curvaceous, with firm thighs (“Mrs. Short’s faith was not as firm as her honey-brown thighs”…), and butts that are described as ‘ample’ or compared to ‘peaches’. Every time he comes across a woman he has to make these remarks about their bodies which really gets repetitive fast. He often thinks that the way they dress is solely for his benefit (“a black bra that peeked out at me through the knitting like a shy puppy”, ) and compares their bodies to sweet things like ‘honey’ and ‘butterscotch’. He particularly objectifies light-skinned Black women, “She had a honey-brown complexion that made it appear as if she were sculpted out of amber ambrosia. […] She could have been a tanned Italian or a light-skinned Black woman or a Latin goddess come to life or a combination of all three. You didn’t gaze upon her and think about fucking her. You wanted to protect her. Put her in a gilded cage and admire her for the rest of your life like a captured angel”. Additionally, this is yet another hard-boiled novel that pains a victim of sexual abuse as having to be saved by a man or if she worked as a prostitute or was involved in other activities deemed illegal has to be portrayed as ‘broken’ and ‘unhinged’.
And for all his posturing, Nathan is exactly like the men he looks down upon. After he has sex with Lisa, the minister’s daughter, he wakes “to see Lisa sprawled across the bed like an action figure some kid had left behind once he was done playing”. Later on, he thinks this when coming across a lot of cash: “It was all tens and twenties. Folded over, it was a knot big enough to choke a horse or a whore”…wtf. Not only is he comparing women to playthings, that he can use and toss aside, but placing them in the same category as fucking horses? I found the way the narrator describes and perceives women to be gross & dehumanising.
The sex scenes were cringe, with Lisa reverting to her pornstar persona and having to once again emphasize just how manly Nathan is (“Fuck, you’re strong”, “Well, aren’t you big all over”, “Give it to me! Tame this pussy!”). When having sex Lisa “growls”, her eyes go “feral”. And then we get eye-roll-worthy things like: “Her skin was feverishly hot, but she felt weightless in my arms. It was like holding a feather from a phoenix”.
Lisa of course has to reveal her traumatic past because there is nothing like using female trauma and pain to incentivize our hero.
So many jokes were sexist, homophobic, or simply down-right icky, and may appeal to people who still think of Family Guy as being funny.
The story was boring, predictable. Nathan was a one-note character who wasn’t half as cool or funny or edgy as this book thinks he is while the side-characters are painfully cartoonish.
As much as it pains me to write such a review for a Cosby book I can’t close an eye to how sexist and dull this book turned out to be.
If you are interested in checking out this novel I recommend you check out more positive reviews out. If you’ve never read anything by Cosby but want to I recommend you give this a wide berth and check out Blacktop Wasteland and/or Razorblade Tears instead.
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
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