The Rib King #BookReview

Ladee Hubbard | Jan 2021 | 370pp

This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I started reading this mid-May 2021 and it dragged on for 3 weeks until I was able to get through the first 200 or so pages. 🤦🏾‍♀️ Once through the first half, the story got more interesting. I sped read the final chapters and decided an overall⭐️⭐️.

We’ll start with the Barclays, a middle to upper class family whose wealth is slipping. They typically have a full staff of house servants they bully into maintaining appearances. Using the Groundskeeper as Butler, sending servants to grocery without enough money, and collecting orphans as cheap labour. For a dinner party one night, the cook and groundskeeper concoct a sauce the guests fall in love with. The Barclays, not their African American servants, are approached with a deal to sell the recipe and use a caricature of the groundskeeper, August Stillwell, on the product. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well with the servants and chaos ensues.

Problem is, it takes a long time to get to the chaos. 🤦🏾‍♀️ First we have to hear about much to do about nothing in Florida, which is August’s roots and another side plot of the young orphan boys. At least the later reemerges in the last chapters but the stuff about Florida seemed like useless script, until I read up on the author. The Rib King is a prequel to her debut book The Talented Ribkins. According to some light research, here is where you can find more on the Florida connection. I kinda wish I had known that, maybe I would have read the books in order…or maybe I just would have skipped the Florida chapters of The Rib King. 🥱🙄🤷🏾‍♀️

The first half of the book is from the perspective of August, the groundskeeper. Its a slow read and he’s a bit of a slow thinker, but I grew to like him. I didn’t want him to be taken advantage of, for sure. After ‘the incident’, Augusts sort of first climax, the story skips 10 years ahead and is told from the view of Jeanie the young cook. She has a young daughter and runs a beauty salon with a product she needs financing to sell. She hasn’t seen or heard from August in 10 years but suddenly he’s scheduled to be in her city promoting his Rib King persona. This is triggering to Jeanie, in more ways than one.

The first part of this book just dragged on with details about histories and side plots that never connected. Just wasted time telling stories about Jim Crow we’ve all heard before. Maybe I would have been more invested had I read the first novel but, I doubt it. With that said, if your story requires me to read another first, please fucking say that on the title page, GEESH!

I did enjoy the dialogue between August, the staff and the Barclays. I enjoyed Jeanie’s perspective more than Augusts. But, thats because 10 years into the future, Jeanie got to drop just enough of the Jim Crow yes’suh, no’suh, bullshit that it wasn’t as strong of a distraction. Jeanie’s story also dovetails into the uprising of the black middle class which is an infinitely more entertaining narrative.

This was published in January 2021, aprox 6 months after PepsiCo, current owners of then named Aunt Jemima brand, decided to change the name and no longer use the exploitive image of ‘Mammy’ to sell pancakes and syrup. After 131 years. 🙄 Brand imaging on Cream of Wheat and Uncle Bens rices have since changed as well. The Rib King story explores a fictional telling of the people behind the stereotypes these brands exploited. This is what originally attracted me to the story. That plot idea is an interesting one but I’m not convinced it was fully realized here. Just too much else going on.

Its a bit of a weird ride for sure.

Interesting read, #35/2021 I think the books below support a stronger telling of the trails and tribulations of a rising black middle class:

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neal Hurston

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Red At The Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

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