Nancy, one of my writing pals, recently read the synopsis for the book I’m now editing and recommended that I read The Women of Brewster Place. She noted that my WIP could be the ‘tropical sister’ of that novel. I have to thank her for recommending the book, which was quite an experience. It’s described as A Novel in Seven Stories and Gloria Naylor exceeded my expectations.
Storyline: The reader meets the first character when she moves to Brewster Place, traces her history before she arrived there and then segues into the second character, which is her friend’s history and experiences. The story then goes on to enfold the main characters in stories which go from touching to heart breaking. Though the characters shared the common backdrop of Brewster Place and the inherent poverty, they faced different challenges.
Players: I met many characters, however the protagonists were Mattie, Etta Mae, Kiswana, Lucielia (Ciel), Cora Lee, Lorraine and Theresa.
I liked: This is going to sound really strange, but here goes…I cried in each chapter, sometimes just a few tears and other times, more than I should have been shedding over fictional characters. It’s testament to Miss Naylor’s skill as a writer that these females (and males too!) came to life. I felt at home in their world and shared their individual and collective pain. I also enjoyed the snippets of song lyrics, which reflected the storyline.
I found the prose rich, and Miss Naylor’s words flowed together beautifully to form vivid pictures. For instance, In not so many words, she conveyed a sense of hope that turned into disillusionment for Etta Mae, a woman of the world, who should have known better than to try to grasp the wind. She did this with poise, grace and even a bit of humor thrown in.
All evening Etta had been in another world, weaving his tailored suit and the smell of his expensive cologne into a custom-made future for herself. It took his last floundering thrusts into her body to bring her back to reality. She arrived in enough time to feel him beating against her like a dying walrus, until he shuddered and was still.
…And the expression on the face of this breathing mass to her left would be the same as all the others. She could turn now and go through the rituals that would tie up the evening for them both, but she wanted just one more second of this soothing darkness before she had to face the echoes of the locking doors she knew would be his eyes.
And there were many more poignant passages that put me into the characters’ head space.
I could have lived without: The book started at ‘Dawn’, which in essence was a narrative of Brewster Place’s history to the point where the people of colour moved in. I almost skipped reading it, but being the sort of reader I am, I didn’t. ‘Dusk’ showed Brewster Place in its state of hopelessness and abandonment. I understand the intent of what could be construed as a prologue and epilogue, but perhaps the writer could not have gotten the history of how the neighbourhood came to be without giving the details prior to the story. Nowhere in the actual novel was there reference to the time before the community was occupied exclusively by blacks.
Overall comments: I have a crazy schedule so it’s been a while since I took time to devour a book. The Women of Brewster Place took me maybe three hours to read. Though the stories weren’t long, the characters were crafted so well that I felt I knew them. From Cora Lee, who liked dolls so much in childhood that she couldn’t stop having babies, to Mattie—a formidable, yet gentle woman who appears throughout the book—who made tremendous sacrifices for an ungrateful son, and Lorraine—a woman searching for acceptance—who met a horrible fate.
I’m not sure I’d say I enjoyed this book. It made me chuckle, cry too many tears, and reflect on the sometimes overwhelming odds that face us in life. I admired the strength of these women and their indomitable spirits. I don’t doubt that I’ll be reading this book again at some point in the future.
Rating: Five Stars!