Local Book Review: David by Preston Dent

Local Book Review: David by Preston Dent

In his poignant and eye-opening novel, David: Love Life, Live Long, and Be Free, local Harrisburg author Preston A. Dent portrays the harsh realities and injustices of aspects of Harrisburg’s urban lifestyle. Set mainly in the Alison Hill neighborhood, David chronicles the heartbreaking trajectory of a modern-day African American family as it faces tragedy, abuse, incarceration, and illness. Though the themes of the novel are at times heavy-handed, Preston presents his novel as a warning tale to today’s youth in Harrisburg, and offers through his narrative valuable insight into a population and a lifestyle that is underrepresented in local literature.
Dent models the trajectory of his main characters after the protagonists of the mob and gangster movies he loved as a child. As a youth, Dent aspired to hold a place in history among the great men of the mobs and gangs with which he was so enthralled. In his foreword, he writes “I thought drug dealers had retirement plans and would get me everything I wanted from cars, girls, clothes, and even power.” His personal trajectory, it seems, exposed the untruths of his original plan for the future. “I wrote this story to open the eyes and minds of people…I see too many of our brothers and sisters victimized by the streets, by drugs, diseases, and even death.”
The story of Dent’s fictional, maligned Harrisburg family begins with Tracy Thompson, an ambitious African American teenager who, though she manages to earn her high school diploma, is soon struck with bad luck and ends up pregnant in college. Tracy makes a valiant effort to raise her daughter but is tragically killed while Elektra is still young.
At this point, Dent really begins to use his characters to provide commentary and valuable insight into the shortcomings of the social system. Because Elektra’s father is imprisoned, she is sent from her home in the South to live with an uncle in Harrisburg. Elektra is placed in the city school system and attempts to do well. However, as her uncle’s legitimate income is sparse and is supplemented by income earned by pimping women, Elektra’s well-being is compromised. Through Elektra’s narrative, Dent paints a picture of abuse, substance abuse, and desperation. The misfortune of his protagonists perpetuates a vicious cycle. Living in one of Harrisburg’s poorest and drug-infested neighborhoods, Elektra is drawn in to a life of violence. In order to protect her own life and that of her unborn child, she must take drastic measures, and ultimately ends up in prison.
The story of Dent’s main character, the namesake of the novel, begins in a Pennsylvania prison. Robbed of a productive and ambitious future, Elektra gives dies giving birth to David Collins as a riot rages outside her cell. The circumstances of his birth prescribe an ominous future for the child, and David soon enough enters the foster care system, only to experience heartache and tragedy. David moves from family to family, becomes close to one of his foster parents, and then watches as that man abuses other children and overdoses on drugs. However, it’s in his last foster placement that David himself enters the thug life and succeeds in the Harrisburg drug trade.
While Dent glorifies the life of the gangster and drug dealer, detailing all of the perks that come with money, good looks, loyalty, and connections, he also takes pains to describe the risks and dangers of such a lifestyle choice. David becomes addicted to a powerful drug and is indiscriminate in his relations with women. Dent also implies that the gangster life and drug addiction, as well as the violence he witnessed throughout his youth, harden David’s compassion for others and disregard for the police. David would rather avenge himself of the wrongs imposed on him, at any cost, than atone for his crimes. In the end, he is left alone, hard-hearted, and in trouble with the law.
David is a timely read for readers in Central Pennsylvania. Dent’s descriptions of thug life and the drug trade, as well as the trauma of being without a true home, remind readers of the perils facing our city today. Dent writes of a family caught in a perpetual cycle, and a young African American male with a story similar to many we hear on the news today. While David is strictly a novel for a mature audience, it truly serves as an authentic account and a warning tale to today’s youth.
David by Preston A. Dent is available to purchase in local bookstores such as Midtown Soul in Harrisburg and online through Barnes and Noble and Google Play.