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Milk in My Coffee

When a black man meets a white woman and they fall in love, sometimes there are more pressing matters that concern them than the predictable fuss over an interracial relationship. The latest novel from the popular Dickey (Friends and Lovers) is as much about relationships as it is about race. Both Jordan Greene, a 30ish engineer, and Kimberly Chavers, a 28-year-old artist, have thorny connections with friends, former lovers and relatives that they must unravel before they can even begin to think about a life together. For Jordan, there is his on-again, off-again relationship with fiery J'nette, who says she is carrying his baby. There is his friendship with his confidant Solomon, who is engaged to J'nette's best friend but may be less trustworthy than he seems. Then there is Jordan's family. When he flies from New York to his native small town of Brownsville, Tenn., to attend the funeral of his ex-stepfather, Jordan is caught in the thick of family woes. His half-brother, Reggie, has finally checked into a drug rehabilitation program but only after casting their older brother, Darrell, into bankruptcy. In the rural South, where racial tensions are more frightening and immediate than Jordan remembers, he must not only suffer his older brother's harangues against dating white women but also do so while loaning him money. Kimberly, meanwhile, is trying to rid herself of an obnoxious, white ex-boyfriend and come to grips with a secret past that she fears will make Jordan doubt her love for him. By the time she shows Jordan her skeletons, makes up with a troubled family of her own and faces down violence on the streets of New York, Dickey has demonstrated once again his easy mastery of dialogue and voice (both romantic leads share narrator's honors with an omniscient third-person) and his cheerful, wittily acerbic eye for the troubles that plague lovers in the 1990s.

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