Picks and Pans Review: Home Repairs
Austin McMillan is adolescent, well-to-do and black, but unlike TV's sassy Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he's no fish out of water. The painfully vulnerable hero of Ellis's deft and delightful second novel, Austin speaks Italian, teaches rock climbing and writes for the college humor magazine. His lament is not that he's unlike everyone else, but that he's so often "the only black" in the group.
Still, that's not Austin's biggest problem. He and his friends are all nerds and his life seems a catalog of female rejection. To learn from his own mistakes, he decides to keep a journal of his sexual misadventures.
Home Repairs is Austin's beguiling diary, from age 16 to his early 30s. Only partly through lifting weights, Austin goes from dud to stud, and lands all the women, black and white, he can handle. The fun is sharing in Austin's steamy accounts of his insecurities, obsessions and heartbreaks.
As life throws odd opportunities in his path, Austin discovers he is rather charming and becomes, improbably, a minor celebrity known as "The Fix-it Kid" on a cable TV show called Home Repairs—this despite having no particular expertise. But after all his female conquests have left him unfulfilled, Austin begins to make home repairs on a more emotional level.
Ellis, whose wicked first novel, Platitudes, skewered black literati for limited views on gender, style and politics, satirizes fame and campus life as well as sexual shenanigans. But beneath the humor, he shows that while Austin is always clearly a black man, he is never less than a man. (Simon & Schuster, $21)