Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Right Here, Right Now was Trey Ellis’s third novel, following Platitudes (1988), which poked fun at the African American literary world, and Home Repairs (1993), which dealt humorously with fame and sexuality. Right Here, Right Now continued the author’s focus on young, intelligent, upwardly mobile African Americans who shatter racial stereotypes.

Right Here, Right Now aims at a number of satire-worthy targets—including the state of California, African Americans “passing” as white, and New Age concepts—with mixed success. Chief among the author’s subjects of light-hearted derision is the multibillion-dollar self-improvement industry, which through infomercials and seminars promotes solutions to every problem from losing weight to gaining financial independence to finding an ideal mate. Ellis rightly concludes that with the correct approach—using irrefutable platitudes, repetition, and positive reinforcement—and the proper price points, anything can be sold to a gullible public. Individuals are eager to learn how to earn higher incomes, grow smarter, become better looking, or make other personal adjustments to enjoy life more fully, and motivational mavens, con men, and similar profit-driven merchants claim to provide such education, selling their wares at whatever price the market will bear.

Closely alligned with his observations about the demand for self-help products is the author’s somber but accurate contention that there is a fine line between selling an innocuous motivational product and selling an extremist dogma. Ellis uses such examples as Jonestown, David Koresh, and Heaven’s Gate—and Ashton Robinson’s own cough-syrup-swilling, bungee-jumping, Gap-wearing adherents—to demonstrate that no belief is so far-fetched that individuals cannot be convinced of its potential value.