Monday, August 10, 2009

In Love & Trouble, by Alice Walker

(pb; 1967, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973: story anthology)

Overall review:

Superb, poetry-infused, intuitive and clever anthology, revolving around black women -- of varied walks of life -- and their joys and tribulations (mostly the latter).

A must-read for anyone who appreciates compact, politicized and spiritual writing.

Review, story by story:

1.) "Roselily": A wife-to-be, standing at the altar, ponders the events and people -- namely, her children and the men she's known -- that led her to this situation. Ambivalent, relatable, often angry and weary piece, with an almost-poetic structure and rhythm to it. Stunning in its array of emotions, as well as its framing.

2.) "Really, Doesn't Crime Pay?": Myrna, a thirty-two year old woman and aspiring writer, is torn between her traditionalist, oppressive husband (Ruel) and a charming, snake-eyed drifter/lover (Mordecai Rich), who nourishes her penned creativity. The result? A black-humored, revenge-tinged finish. Classic, memorable, laugh-out-loud nasty (in terms of character intentions).

3.) "Her Sweet Jerome": An insecure woman marries a schoolteacher (Jerome Franklin Washington III), then discovers he's keeping his social activities secret from her; this pushes her towards insanity. Solid story.

4.) "The Child Who Favored Daughter": Violent, ugly piece about a bitter man who obsesses over women who betrayed him, sexually and racially (by sleeping with the "white devil").

5.) "Everyday Use": A selfish, gone-city-slicker woman (Dee Johnson) visits her rural-based family, and gets a brief dose of practical reality. One of the best stories in the anthology, this.

This story became the basis for the 2003 film. Rachel Luttrell played Dee. Karen ffolkes played Maggie. Lyne Odums (aka Baddja-Lyne) played Mama. Gary Poux played Hakim-a-barber. The film was scripted and directed by Bruce Schwartz.

6.) "The Revenge of Hannah Kemhuff": Excellent, sly story about a star-crossed woman who gets voodoo-esque, ironic revenge on a mean-spirited neighbor.

7.) "The Welcome Table": An old black woman, thrown out of a segregated/white church, discovers she doesn't need church to be with God. Another compact, clever-ironic tale.

8.) "Strong Horse Tea": Sad story about a poor black mother (Rannie Toomer) who tries, in vain, to get a white doctor to come by her house and heal her sick son, Snooks. The abrupt, dark-sly ending may cause some readers to feel cheated out of a traditional denouement.

9.) "Entertaining God": A character-revolving story about a teenage boy (John) who helps a gorilla escape from a zoo, John's father (a postman-turned-hairdresser), and John's mother (a wife gone divorced poet) -- all of them search for, perhaps realize, their peculiar notions of ultimate divinity. One of the best, more distinctive, stories in this anthology.

10.) "The Diary of an African Nun": Caught between Catholicism and primal heathenism, a quiet nun finds a strange -- probably destructive -- balance between the two faiths. Disturbing, vivid piece.

This story became the basis of a 1977 film, Diary of an African Nun. Not much information on this one, at least on . . . Julie Dash directed. Barbarao played Sister Gloria.

11.) "The Flowers": Myop, a young girl, skips through a forest and encounters an odd sight. Interesting, poetry-fringed story fragment.

12.) "We Drink the Wine in France": One of my favorite stories in this anthology -- a college professor in the Deep South and one of his young, beautiful female students fancy each other in shy and solitary ways. Tantalizing interplays of sure desire and awkward reality highlight this story.

13.) "To Hell with Dying": Tender tale about a melancholic, diabetic bluesman whose musical interactions with neighborhood children enliven his existence. One of the best stories here, and a great anthology end-cap.

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