Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gloria Naylor: 'The Women of Brewster Place' (1982)

The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories (New York: Viking Penguin, 1982), Gloria Naylor's first book, was adapted into a mini-series in 1989 that was filmed in Chicago. The setting for the novel is vaguer -- maybe Cleveland, or maybe a smaller Midwestern or "Northern" city.  

In the course of the novel, Naylor (1950-2016) follows several interconnected women in their tatty neighborhood, an effective organizing principle that combines place, time and character. How did they get there? How do they live? What will happen to them? About most of the main characters, we learn the answers by the end of the book.

What is more important in determining a person's arc -- gender, race, class, sexual orientation, geography, or time period? The Women of Brewster Place posits that all are important, and all have some variability. Also, existential choice plays a role regardless of one's station in life, not to mention chance, or luck of the draw. Some give up, some go with the flow, some become casualties, some organize, some try somewhere or something else.
The main characters are: Mattie Michael, Etta Mae Johnson, Lucielia "Ciel" Turner, Melanie "Kiswana" Browne, Cora Lee, Theresa and Lorraine. 

"Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over. Mattie realized that this moment called for all three." (page 70).

A couple of expressions I particularly like: "She smiled warmly into Cora Lee's eyes." And: "She sincerely liked Mattie because unlike the others, Mattie never found the time to do jury duty on other people's lives." (page 123).

The novel earned a National Book Award for Naylor in 1983.

Today's Rune: Gateway. 

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