Friday, March 21, 2008

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

book 5 of the Expanding Your Horizons Challenge

Naylor is a master of words. She's not just trying to tell me a story - she's choosing each phrase with care, painting a picture of a life that is completely unfamiliar to me. And yet, she's showing me that what's inside the women of Brewster street is also inside of me - the same hopelessness you have to overcome to feel peace, the same need for acceptance and love.

Life on this run-down block is not easy - once you arrive there, you're either at the end of your rope, or you're stopping there on your way, you hope, to something better. The book is a novel in seven stories - and characters you've already met are interwoven throughout the stories of the women you're meeting. It's a harsh world, full of alcohol, libertine living, landlords who don't provide heat or sanitary living conditions, and neighbors who are so wrapped up in the pain of their own lives that everyone is always lashing out at each other. A few characters move through the book - Mattie and Kiswana - that seem to be a balm to all those others who have a continual desire to add fuel to the never-ending fires of hatred and distrust that rule among the residents of Brewster place. There are things that are very hard to read, especially the rape of a lesbian resident - apparently evidence that each person, no matter how "low down" you are, is looking for someone lower than themselves to push down.

One thing about the book that was a little disconcerting, was the fact that you never meet a single male character that is stable or provides in any way for his lover, wife or family. They are all deadbeat, womanizing and selfish. I don't know if this is really the way it is on streets like Brewster Place, and I don't know if she was just trying to focus on the strength (or weakness) of the women (hence the title), but it bothered me that there wasn't a single male with a redeeming quality. I really liked, however, reading about Cora, whose decision to visit a performance of Midsummer Night's Dream, awoke in her a desire to finally begin caring for her children and trying to provide them with a better life - without depending on a man.

If you can handle the harshness of this book, it is well worth reading - a portrait of a place and of a people that deserve to have their story told and considered.

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