Renee Cronin’s sophomore novel is an arresting account of intimate partner violence in a Black lesbian relationship. It is also a tale of friendship and chosen family. Jeya Wellington is a social worker, tasked with helping her clients overcome the trauma in their lives, but she is hiding a terrible secret: her partner Rayne is a violent abuser. The novel begins with Jeya on the run from this abusive relationship, and takes the reader through the stages of Jeya’s journey. She is joined by her friend and former lover, Roman, who is incensed when Jeya finally tells him why she is taking refuge in his home. All of this information comes in chapter one, so the rest of the novel is centered around Jeya’s fight to survive, with or without Rayne.
Cronin does an excellent job of recreating the terror of abuse; at several points throughout the novel I found myself afraid for Jeya, as well as those closest to her. The realistic depictions of the stages of intimate partner violence and steady pacing are two strengths of the book. One of my quibbles with Fistful of Love is the revelation that her best friend’s brother is gay near the end of the novel. It doesn’t seem to fit, and might have worked better as a subplot had it been introduced earlier in the novel. As it stands, it’s just filler, and does little to move the story forward.
Fistful of Love is a solid addition to a growing body of work by Black lesbian writers that focuses on abuse and resilience. Cronin’s skill as a writer is unfolding, and I look forward to her next offering.