Choke: A Novel

Choke: A Novel

by Darnella Ford

Paperback(First Edition)

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For Vanessa, a low-income housing complex in the middle of the desert in El Mirage, Arizona, represents all that is wrong with her life. Her neighbors get it on all night long, she sees an abusive husband kill his wife, and then himself, and her own ex-husband keeps showing up and getting into her pants.

The one bright spot in Vanessa's life is her daughter, Kennedy, and Kennedy's love for the piano. She is practicing to audition for an esteemed music academy that Vanessa can in no way afford—-especially after losing her housekeeping job. But Vanessa isn't one to give up, and she'll do anything to help her daughter succeed, even if it means selling her body and soul.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312348038
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/13/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

Darnella Ford, the author of Crave and Rising, is a spoken-word artist. She performs regularly in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her daughter. She is currently at work on her next novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I bypassed the good life in exchange for a modest lifestyle. Read between the lines: Bankrupt with bad credit. I also fell madly in love with David Claville, a beautiful man with a birth defect. He was born with the inability to remain in the upright position. He was always falling for a woman, and this would have been perfectly fine with me if he didn't wear an obligatory little name tag that read: husband.

So now you understand my position in the sun.

My name is Vanessa.

I am thirty-four-years old and my beautiful copper-toned skin is my claim to fame. Truth is, I used to be beautiful when I was young. No, I used to be beautiful when I was free, which only leads me to believe that someday I shall be beautiful again. I recently separated from David, my now name-tagless spouse.

I live in a gloriously neglected complex smack-dab in the middle of the desert.

El Mirage, Arizona. Eleven square miles of nothing, thirty minutes east of Phoenix. A tangible dust bowl, flat as a pancake with a lot of cacti and airborne dirt.

El Mirage is a public housing mecca, which is how most of us found our way down this narrow stretch of dusty highway.

In the summertime, every single day is a 115-degree reminder that you are an inhabitant of one of the hottest places on earth.

It's nearing the end of spring, on the cusp of what promises to be the hottest summer ever.

I have one kid. When she slid out of the birth canal, credits rolled off her little baby butt: THE END. Sew the hole shut. Ain't nothing else coming out.

My kid's name is Kennedy.

She was typical in most ways, awkward and struggling to bloom, stretching to find her own voice—-but in one way she was different. She was an old soul, reborn into a young body. At twelve, she was extraordinary.

Influenced by the likes of Count Basie, Keith Jarrett, Fats Waller, Dink Johnson, and Sonny Clark, she heard the calling of the keys while still in the womb.

She was "blood of my blood" and "flesh of my flesh." I had begun playing at the age of seven, when one of my mother's drug-addicted friends sold us an electronic keyboard for ten dollars. Self-taught by junior high school, it was a natural calling for me. My fingers were fused with magic, and I could play classic compositions like an angel. Everybody told me so. It was no small wonder that Kennedy "pulled" from the gift, and now it belonged to her.

She started playing piano by ear at the age of four.

By six, her father and I enrolled her in classes, foregoing the rent at times to pay for instruction.

By eight, her teacher said she was "fluent on the keys."

By nine, she was said to be "gifted."

By ten, "accomplished."

At eleven, "highly endowed."

At twelve, she was "a genius."

Copyright © 2006 by Darnella Ford

Reading Group Guide

El Mirage — for Vanessa,the low income housing complex in the middle of the Arizona desert represents everything that's wrong with her life. Her neighbors get it on all night, she sees an abusive husband kill his wife and himself in the courtyard, and her own deadbeat ex-husband keeps showing up and getting into her pants.

The one bright spot is her daughter Kennedy's piano practice as she prepares to try out for an esteemed music academy. But Vanessa can't afford to send her, especially after losing her housekeeping job when cranky old Miss Gregory bites the dust. Vanessa isn't one to give up, though. And she'll do anything to help Kennedy pursue a better life, even if it means sacrificing her own chances...

1. What was the nature of Vanessa's relationship to Yolie and Anese? What was your perception of their connection?

2. What do you believe motivated each woman, and do you believe their motives were similar or connected?

3. Do you identify with the struggles of single mothers in America? If so, what do you think is the greatest challenge facing single mothers and their children today?

4. In your own estimation, how would you critique and/or evaluate Vanessa, Yolie, and Anese's parenting styles?

5. Explore the following relationships: Vanessa and David; Anese and the "Big Black Man"; Yolie and the married man

6. Can you identify with any of these relationships? Why or why not?

7. Which of the women did you personally relate to the most? Why?

8. Why do you feel the women chose to be escorts? Do you feel they had other options? Was it an easy out? Ultimately, how do you feel about their choices? Why?

9. How did escorting affect Vanessa's life? Self-esteem? Relationships? Her ultimate destiny?

10. What do you feel was the moral or central theme of the story?

11. In the end, who, if anyone, found redemption? Why?

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