“As Jones says in her Foreword, The Women of Brewster Place is a ‘composite novel.’ Think Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey or, much later, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried — novels where separate stories about disparate people intersect. This form can be heavy on melodrama and Naylor doesn’t always dodge that pothole. But it’s her ardent inventiveness as a storyteller and the complex individuality she gives to each of her seven main characters that make the novel so much more than a contrived literary assembly line.
“Naylor’s various women have all wound up on Brewster Place, a dingy street in an unnamed city that dead-ends into a wall. Naylor herself was born in New York and grew up in Queens. With the streetwise knowledge of a native daughter, Naylor opens the novel by, almost mythically, surveying Brewster Place, the kind of tired New York apartment building that’s housed shifting populations …
“Among her ‘women’ are Mattie Michael, a single mother who’s the moral center of the book, Kiswana Browne, a neighborhood activist, and a lesbian couple who argue, as we’d say these days, about the issue of embracing difference. Theresa is loud and proud while her partner, Lorraine, wants to live beyond categories; she says she ‘just wants to be … a lousy human being’ …
“Deftly, Naylor gathers all these individual stories into one climactic narrative that works through the reader via a word-by-word sense of horror and outrage. The power to decide who, in fact, can be permitted the ordinary chance to be ‘just a lousy human being’ is itself still the subject of furious argument in this country. The Women of Brewster Place, born of the details of a particular time and community, also turns out to be one of those, yes, universal stories depicting how we, the fallen, seek grace.”
Just read the first chapter and I think this is one of the authors I would gladly kill someone to be able to write like. Had no idea this gem existed – until now!
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