An American Marriage, review

At sixteen I thought I knew what romantic love was. Head over heels for a boy who turned my world completely upside down there was never a doubt in my mind that what we had was real. And what was real was meant to be held onto, no matter how painful the grip. The idea of “meant to be,” began to feel more like duty than destiny and that is the conflict that ties An American Marriage by Tayari Jones together. Celestine and Roy are two individuals who think they have this love and marriage thing figured out, but life has a way of showing the both of them that they don’t know the first thing about anything. Both their love and notions of duty are tested by an unforeseen circumstance that, while unfair to both parties, reveal truths that were bound to come to light regardless.

I will admit I struggled with the story at first, but the more I kept reading, the more I saw myself in both Celestine and Roy. I understood the duty that Roy and the other men in the novel tried to impose on Celestine, knew it because I felt a sense of duty to stick by the man I had committed myself to at sixteen even when I wasn’t sure he was worth it anymore. And I understood the need for liberation and autonomy Celestine was trying to explain to everyone in the novel who seemed to ignore her voice—it’s what ultimately led me to realize what I was holding onto wasn’t worth the sacrificing of my own life. What I love most about Jones’ novel is how it gripped me in a way I was not prepared for. She has a way of crafting a mirror that so clearly reflects truths people often hide from.

At twenty-five I learned how to let go. Just as Roy realized that what he was fighting for was a phantom of a dream, something that was worthless if it had to be forced. I looked into the eyes of a man I swore I loved and realized I didn’t know him at all. I realized that what I was fighting tooth and nail for was something that did not exist between us anymore, and maybe it never did, but I knew that regardless it was not worth holding onto. I do not imagine that he and I will ever get to the point of where Celestine and Roy find themselves at the end of An American Marriage,  but I can say, confidently, that I have learned something about love: it boils down to acceptance.

The beginning of the first Corinthians scripture about love are probably the most popular, but the line that sticks with me the most is, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” I have come to understand that love is not possible without accepting the truth of who someone is just as it is not possible without revealing the truth of who you are. When Celestine and Roy are able to finally see each other for who they are—not who they want the other to be—they are able to accept one another and unlock a freedom that wasn’t possible before then. I have experienced this in my own life and I don’t believe it would have been possible without my foolish first attempt at love, just as Celestine and Roy would not have been able to arrive at their final destination without going through the journey we watch them navigate throughout the novel. The brilliance of Jones’ book is so unassuming it sneaks up on you toward the end, instantly making you want to start from the beginning again. It’s a feat so astounding I see why Oprah chose it for her book club.

If you want a light read that packs a meaningful punch, I highly recommend An American Marriage. It will stir some dormant questions in you and make you look at love, destiny, and duty in a different light. 

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Ain’t I A Mother: Motherhood as Freedom in ‘Underground’

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WGN’s ‘Underground’

It’s been a while (a long, looong while) but I’m back with some thoughts to share, specifically regarding Underground. I love the show since the premiere and that love has required a lot of defending against haters. But now that the season has ended I’ve had time to mull over a lot of the things that struck me and one of those things is motherhood. Season one presents us with three black women who are slaves on a Georgia plantation. What’s unique about these women is their declaration of motherhood, a right not afforded to them due to their being, legally, property. That declaration of motherhood is a form of freedom as violently toiled for as physically escaping the plantation.

Toni Morrison first presented the argument for motherhood as freedom in her novel, Beloved. Morrison looks at real-life Margaret Garner and how her decision to kill her child was Garner’s defense against slavery and assertion of motherhood. I believe, in their own way, the mothers of Underground are odes to Garner and mothers alike in the age of slavery who did not allow an institution of hate and violence bar them from claiming, loving, and protecting their children.

You can read my piece on Catapult!

 

Gathering of Waters – A review

Gathering of Waters

Published: 2012

Publisher: Akashic Books

Pages: 252

“You would never think something so horrible happened in such a peaceful place” – Gathering of Waters

Elements of the supernatural have been the tie that binds Black American literature across genres. Whether you’re reading Octavia Butler or Alice Walker or Sister Souljah there is the presence of the unseen that exists, visible exclusively for those who get it, those who live it, those who understand the function of symbols in every day life. Toni Morrison described it as “all the parts of living […] on an equal footing. Birds talk and butterflies cry, and it is not surprising or upsetting,” otherwise known as animism.

Animism is the “idea that souls inhabit all objects, living things, and even phenomena.” This idea is what shapes Bernice McFadden’s novel about Money, Mississippi and one of its first families. Gathering of Waters is the meaning of the name Mississippi, a name given to the southern state by Choctaw Native Americans. While the European may have loved the name, he did not bestow that affection for the name givers and so they were violently exterminated. Mississippi’s evil past is, inadvertently, exhumed in order to build the town of Money, who serves as the narrator of Gathering of Waters.

It is Money who introduces readers to animism and how what is deemed as “bizarre,” and “absurd” are nothing more than “memories of previous existences.” Those previous existences are the souls that inhabit all things and if there is one thing to remember it is that “souls never, ever die.” That fact is displayed in the family Money has followed with a “desperate infatuation” for decades. A haunting history is revealed, ripe with tragedy and Bernice L. McFadden grips you from the very beginning with her stunning prose that is both succinct and poignant, commanding every inch of your attention.

Gathering of Waters is framed by three tragic events that take place in Money, Mississippi. It does not begin with the violent murder of Emmett Till in 1955; the story works itself backwards unfolding a cycle of evil beginning with the first problem to enter Money, “carrying a pink parasol in one hand and a Bible in the other.” In the 78 year existence of Money, Mississippi we not only follow a family’s inception, but the presence of a soul, a memory, a previous existence, that is not bound by the manmade boundaries of prejudices. Its presence shifts across color lines perpetuating an evil that devastates and destroys: young lovers are separated, lives are lost, families are torn apart. Gathering of Waters is an examination of the past and its active role in the present. McFadden brilliantly offers a deeper insight of the ways in which generations are linked; her use of the omniscient spirit of Money as a narrator allows her to interweave the material world and the spiritual world in a way that is neither surprising nor upsetting. McFadden sets both worlds on equal footing.

 McFadden succeeds in not only adding to the rich tradition of southern African-American gothic literature, she delivers a body of work whose soul will stick with readers forever. It has been such a long time since I’ve read a novel that I sacrificed sleep for on an account of not being able to bare putting it down. Gathering of Waters left me with the same sensation Song of Solomon introduced me to–I can never un-see what McFadden opened me up to, there are themes that will continue to unravel and amaze me for the rest of my life. This is a novel that I know I will turn to again and again. I am now going to devour everything McFadden has previously written.

Rating: 5/5

Valentine’s Day Lit: The Realest Fictitious Love Stories Ever

realestlovestory1

Tis the season for loooove, and what better way to get into the spirit than reading a great love story! I recently wrote a piece for QuirkyBrownLove about my favorite couples in literature. From Their Eyes Were Watching God to Tar Baby and Quicksand these stories reject the old Cinderella narrative and tap into love’s nuances. They serve as perfect reminders for why we dedicate an entire day for celebrating love!

Head on over to QuirkyBrownLove to read about my favorite fictitious couples!

God Help the Child — A review

My love for Toni Morrison is borderline obsessive, you can read all about it here, so when I heard the news of her 11th book being published I was all but salivating. Somehow I managed to contain my excitement because it is only recently that I got a chance to read God Help the Child, and the experience was…different.

God Help the Child

“Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child–the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment–weaves a table about the way suffering of childhood can shape, and misshape the life of the adult”

Is the succinct and ambitious description of Morrison’s novella. I was honestly surprised and disappointed at the brevity of pages, but that’s no reason to fault Morrison’s latest novel, especially when there are other valid ones.

Lula Ann Bridewell, or Bride, is the regional manager for a cosmetic brand as well as the creator of her own cosmetic line, You Go Girl. She is beautiful, with skin black like midnight and eyes feline fierce, she is never without an admirer. Her confidence is worn as extravagantly as the white garments she drapes herself in creating an alluring forcefield of intrigue and exoticism.

“Black sells. It’s the hottest commodity in the civilized world.” – Morrison (God Help the Child) 

But that is all stripped away when her lover, Booker, a man with whom she “invented sex,” walks out on her.

In his wake is left a “scared, little, black girl” who is unable to confront the force that made her so–Sweetness, her mother, a light-skinned woman with “good hair,” who treated her “blue-black” child more like an intruder than a daughter. The pain of initial abandonment Bride warded off long ago, or so she thought, creeps back in a way that leaves her desperate for some sort of rectification. With this in heart and mind she attempts to track down her ex-lover.

Now, a part of me–like a large, substantial part–feels absolutely unqualified to critique Queen Morrison. In the world of literature she is nobility and you don’t go against royalty unless you’re willing to face execution. Ok perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic. However, despite Morrison’s celestial mastering of storytelling, I was disappointed with her latest offering.

Morrison had all of the elements that make her novels incredible: magic realism, un-conventional women, critiques on white-supremacy–Booker and Bride are like Jadine and Son in Tar Baby with their polar opposite views on life, money, and race–but something felt incredibly shallow this go-round. From the descriptions of nature, which is always a prominent character in a Morrison novel, to the hallow friendship Bride holds with the only person she can trust “Completely,” Brooklyn, I couldn’t insert myself in anything or anyone, which was frustrating.

Bride’s attempt to confront her ex-lover and understand her perpetual abandonment reveals a much deeper theme of childhood innocence being severed at the hands of adults. We are introduced to children who have suffered horrendous trauma reminiscent of The Bluest Eye, but lack the same ethos of Morrison’s first novel.

God Help the Child felt rushed. Characters enter and exit abruptly, point of views are tangled, and the string holding back Bride’s past–causing the strife between she and Booker–is snapped so prematurely that what’s revealed seems cheap. I finished the last page wanting so much more.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge this novel in comparison to Morrison’s previous catalog, but when you’ve won the Nobel Prize for literature and are known to write the most soul-stirring prose, can you blame a reader for high expectations.