PERSONAL: Female. Ethnicity: "African-American."
Scenes from a Sistah, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Getting to the Good Part, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Blind Ambitions, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
Child of God, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
Tastes like Chicken, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Sex. Lies. Murder. Fame., Amistad (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: In her first novel, Scenes from a Sistah, author Lolita Files tells the story of two women in their twenties who face crucial life decisions, engage in the search for "Mr. Right," and find their friendship tested and ultimately strengthened.
While main characters Reesy and Misty come from different backgrounds, they have been friends since grade school and have helped each other confront such issues as finances, work, love, and family. Reesy keeps disappointing her ambitious and wealthy African-American parents by refusing to become upwardly mobile herself. She takes clerical jobs that make no use of her education and works as a stripper at night. Misty, the daughter of white, working-class parents, repeatedly becomes involved with questionable men. As the two women move through jobs and locales together, they eventually end up in New York City, with Misty hiring Reesy as her administrative assistant. The new working relationship tests their friendship and accentuates the differences in their personalities.
A Publishers Weekly contributor called Scenes from a Sistah a "rollicking tale of the adventures of two cosmopolitan women of spirit and passion," and compared Files's first effort with the works of African-American author Terry McMillan. The reviewer called the dialog between the characters "frank, casually crude, and often quite funny," but concluded that the characters' "bravado can't cover the fundamental callowness of a book that ends with the friends toasting: 'to life, liberty, and the pursuit of great fucks.'" A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the book was full of uplifting ideas, such as "cultural pride" and "positive black images," but that the styles of the prose depended too much on clichés, crassness, and politically correct small talk. The effect, according to this reviewer, resulted in a novel that was stilted and unimportant.
Files continued the story of Reesy and Misty in her next novel, Getting to the Good Part. At this point, Misty has enjoyed a successful corporate career climb and is engaged to her boss. Reesy feels abandoned by her "sistah" and continues to pursue a dancing career in New York City. She is unexpectedly hurled into success when she obtains the lead part in an off-Broadway musical and continues to enjoy a growing, successful entertainment career. A Publishers Weekly review found that the "relentlessly silly chatter" that accompanied each woman's career success "revealed her as little more than shallow and mean spirited." The reviewer called the book "an amusingly superficial but mainly unrealistic sequel" and a "perfunctory performance clearly angling for the movies." Reviewer Sabrina Sutherland of Black Issues Book Review claimed that "Reesy takes a while to warm up to; her brashness and self-centeredness is overbearing, which makes it difficult for the reader to figure out whether she is likable or not." While Sutherland emphasized with the characters' growing pains, the reviewer found the language in Getting to the Good Part "more unsettling than comfortable" and noted an abundance of "crude personal details" that might cause the reader unease.
File's subsequent writings have continued to repel some critics while entertaining others. Tastes like Chicken follows the adventures of Reesy and Misty through the ups and downs of love, marriage, pregnancy, and more, culminating in a cross-country move for Reesy from New York City to the actors' mecca of Los Angeles. Booklist reviewer Lillian Lewis called the novel "a light tale filled with life's chaos," and a Publishers Weekly contributor predicted that readers who enjoyed Files's earlier works will also appreciate the "vivid supporting cast and aggressively street-smart dialogue" in "this hyperactive, immensely enjoyable yarn."
In Child of God, Files leaves the city behind but takes the drama with her. In small-town Tennessee, the Boten family, all named for Shakespearean characters, act out a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions and complexity. Despite their outward appearance as simple country folk, the lives of the Boten family are touched by taboo behavior and fearful, potentially fatal secrets. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Files has created a lurid play of murder, incest, rape and deceit," but also a play that the critic cited for "predictability and garishness" and a general failure to achieve a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, in Black Issues Book Review, Nina Foxx observed that "Files succeeds in sustaining a difficult story line" that spans generations. She predicted that, despite its tragic elements, Files's readers would find Child of God to be "a welcome and refreshing change" of pace.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 1999, Sabrina Sutherland, review of Getting to the Good Part, p. 36; January-February, 2002, Nina Foxx, review of Child of God, p. 57.
Booklist, February 15, 1997, Lillian Lewis, review of Scenes from a Sistah, p. 1002; April 15, 2004, Lillian Lewis, review of Tastes like Chicken, p. 1423; December 1, 2005, Allison Block, review of Sex, Lies, Murder, Fame, p. 24.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1997, review of Scenes from a Sistah, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, January 6, 1997, review of Scenes from a Sistah, p. 62; October 26, 1998, review of Getting to the Good Part, p. 41; July 30, 2001, review of Child of God, p. 63; May 3, 2004, review of Tastes like Chicken, p. 170.