Book Review #10: The Women of Brewster Place
Author: Gloria Naylor
Genre: Fiction in the form of seven short stories
Days to Read: 1 — Or 4 hours to be exact
Synopsis (taken from Amazon.com): Once the home of poor Irish and Italian immigrants, Brewster Place, a rotting tenement on a dead-end street, now shelters black families. This novel portrays the courage, the fear, and the anguish of some of the women there who hold their families together, trying to make a home. Among them are: Mattie Michael, the matriarch who loses her son to prison; Etta Mae Johnson who tries to trade the ‘high life’ for marriage with a local preacher; Kiswana Browne who leaves her middle-class family to organize a tenant’s union.
My Thoughts: I finished this book in record time — probably the fastest I’ve ever read a book in the past year. Did I read it because it was good? Well, not particularly. Gloria Naylor wrote her novel to tell the stories of seven African-American women inhabiting Brewster Place through seven short stories. I generally like reading novels that have more than one perspective but in this case I found it hindered it. The only woman I actually cared about by the end of it was Mattie because she was the first girl we were introduced to and we read through her entire life. For everyone else — Etta Mae, Kiswana, Cora Lee, Ciel, Theresa and Lorraine — we were given just glimpses into their lives, which didn’t help me form a great bond with any of them. However, Gloria Naylor wrote with such passion that it was hard to break away from the heartaches and realities these women endured over the course of their lives. There was so much description in the novels too — at times, it was so graphic that it became just a little too much. For example, the first chapter gave us such wonderfully graphic thoughts of men like this: “…the ebony neck that was just plump enough for a man to bury his nose into and suck up tiny bits of flesh that were almost as smooth as the skin on the top of her full, round breasts that held nipples that were high, tilted and unbelievably even darker than the breasts.” See what I mean? And that’s only one sentence! The novel was full of these sorts of descriptions and graphic material. While it certainly made me pause during these scenes, it didn’t make me stop reading (I’ve read worse). In general, though, men were written and thought of by the women as accessories — things that only harmed them, stupefied the world and did nothing to add to the women’s lives except to have sex with and, as a result, bring children into the world. The women in the novel grew to be independent; after learning the harsh realities of the world around them, they realized they could only count on one another and that they can survive. It was an empowering novel, to say the least. However, I don’t think I would have chosen this book to read had it not been for a class presentation. I’m glad I can say I’ve read it, though, and I plan on watching the 1988 TV version of it starring Oprah Winfrey one day. I’ll let you know how that goes.