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Reading for Pleasure Wednesdays: Gloria Naylor

August 13, 2008
This week I am reading Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place. I honestly do not know why I have not read this book before. It all seems so familiar as if I have already but I know I have not. Perhaps the mini-series, which I did see, stays faithful to the book. The Women of Brewster Place is divided into seven stories, each introducing a new character, however, not necessarily new to the story. For example, the second story explores the characterisation of Etta Mae Johnson, and, in a later story, Lucielia Louise Turner (nicknamed, Ciel). Both women are included in the first story, an in-depth introduction to Mattie Michael hence providing the exposition for how they all end up together at Brewster Place.

Naylor’s language is rich, explosive, and makes me feel like I am there sitting in the room as a silent observer. She does an outstanding job employing poignant similes: “The apple-green Cadillac with the white vinyl roof and Florida plates turned into Brewster like a greased cobra (pg. 56).” “The church was small and dark. The air hung about them like a stale blanket (pg. 101). “When they had finished and stopped holding her up, her body fell over like an unstringed puppet (pg. 171). With each page, I am sad, I get mad, and I cry, I cried when Mattie rocks life back into Ceil, forcing her to let go, to grieve and I am frighten for Mattie’s life when her father tries to beat her to death.

A quick glance at some reviews on line showed me that too many people were interested in the men. The men. The men. The men. Damn, the title of the book is The Women of Brewster Place. Can the what about the men patrol take a holiday at least once every decade? And yes, I am directing that rhetorical question at academics who devise study guides and thought provoking questions about the novel. The men are not painted in a very good light in Naylor’s novel. Nevertheless, that does not negate the fact that many women do in fact experience the same realities with men as the women in the book do. Since when has it become a mandated necessity for an author to portray everyone in a positive light? The same demand never seems to rain down as heavily when a male writes women in a less than stellar light. How many bad mommies, gold diggers, whores, ball-busting dykes, and manipulating bitches are featured in countless male-authored novels? Too many to compute.

Early on in the first chapter, Butch Fuller’s instructions to Mattie on how to eat cane adequately describes most of the men in the novel. “‘You see,’ he said, ‘eating cane is like living life. You gotta know when to stop chewing—when to stop trying to wrench every last bit of sweetness out of a wedge—or you find yourself with a jawful of coarse straw that irritates your gums and the roof of your mouth.’ (pg. 18).” From Butch to Basil to Eugene to all the fathers of Cora Lee’s children the men are only interested in the sweetness (fun and no responsibilities) and have no interest in sticking around to deal with the coarse straw (responsibilities) that is also a part of cane (life).

On the other hand, not all women are saints. In particular, Elvira, Ben’s estranged wife. Elvira elects to ignore that her and Ben’s daughter (a name is never given for the girl) is being raped by Mr. Clyde every Friday night while she is supposedly cleaning his house. In addition, Elvira leaves Ben as soon as her daughter is out of the house and she receives another offer from a more prospering man. Then there is Sophie. A gossiping busy body who begins the rumor that Theresa and Lorraine are lesbians. Although C.C. and his gang rape Lorraine and may have found an excuse to do so anyway, it is Sophie’s public allegations that he uses to justify the brutal gang rape.

Since it has been a while since I’ve seen the mini series, I cannot be for sure, but I thought at the Block Party Mattie and the rest of the women tear down the wall at the end of Brewster. However, in the book it is only a dream. A dream Mattie wakes up from the morning of the Block Party. This means, as with Basil, Ciel never returns to Mattie. So we never know what becomes of her and we don’t know if Lorraine recovers and if her and Teresa split up.

The ending is ambiguous and I agree with many, to some extent it does ring of hopelessness and despair, but mostly I would say of sadness. A sadness caused by being torn apart, having to struggle against tremendous obstacles thrown at the less privileged with everyday life. A life in a society that thrives on keeping people confused, troubled and too busy staying alive to move ahead of the rulemakers.

On another note, interesting, Naylor makes her character C.C. somewhat prophetic.

“‘Hey, C.C., what if she remembers that it was us?’ ‘Man, how she gonna prove it? Your dick ain’t got no fingerprints.’ They laughed and stepped over her and ran out of the alley. (pg. 171).”

Au contraire! C. C. Time and technology are helping to erase that little sinister loophole completely.

  1. Rent Party permalink
    August 14, 2008 2:51 am

    This is one of those famous books I haven’t read, either. Actually it sounds very good to have right about now.

  2. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    August 16, 2008 8:44 am

    It’s only 192 pages, a good read, a fast read. Well worth it.

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