"For the drums will soon, one day, be silent. I will help muffle them forever. To assure life for my people in this world I must be among the lying ones and teach them how to die. I will turn their dances into prayers to an empty sky, and their lovers into dead men, and their babies into unsung chants that choke their throats each spring."
I've had this book for the longest possible time (or, as long as I can remember, which isn't really that long but let's pretend it's AGES) and I presumably bought it in a post-Color Purple haze of 'well that was clearly the best book ever'. And then promptly left it in various places around my room for many many years (again, probably not that long. Maximum 23 years, but probably even less than that... Probably). So, duly added to the TBR Challenge list it was, and then to the Fuck the Patriarchy readathon list, and so the time for ignoring it was pretty much over. It had to be read.
And what a little treat it was! The cover I have is different from the one above, and it fails to mention that this is a collection of short stories, so when I opened it and realised that this is what I was getting I kind of went 'okayyyy... Let's see what you've got then, Walker.' I figured, it's basically only 140 pages long, and so even if the stories are bad (I don't know why they would have been, but there you go) at least it won't take long to read. Long it was not, but filled with emotional power and incredible writing? It sure is!
Seriously, it's a pretty amazing book. It's one of those books that makes you go 'I can't believe I left you so long, I'm SORRY!' and makes you wonder what else you might be missing out on in books you own but have left unread for YEARS. Food for thought, let me tell you! And the stories? They're basically, as this cover helpfully tells you 'Stories of Black Women', which was probably clear because they're written by Alice Walker; and, well, they're just so varied and spectrum-y and just plain wonderful. I mean, I think it's fairly universally acknowledged that black women are basically the most downtrodden group of people anyone can think of (obviously I'm generalising, and I guess I mostly mean non-white women, but just go with me on this yes?) because of how they have to put up with the dual prejudices that come with being a) non-white, and b) a woman, and so when you come across anything that kind of puts black women to the forefront and says 'here we are! We exist, and this is what our lives are like!' well, I'm pretty much down with things like that.
And I say I'm down with things like that, and I am, but you know what's even better? When these things are put to the forefront with objectivity and sensitivity and excellent writing, all of which Walker does here. There's nothing didactic about what she's writing, it's more just like... this is who these women are and what they're like and what they believe, and they exist and you'd do well to remember that. Which is not to say that there's no emotion attached to them or their stories, and in no way are all these women meant to be saints or devils, and nor should they be- they're just people, who have obstacles and struggles and are trying to get through them as well as they can. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, all of them feel very very real.
Please note my generalising statements and lack of reference to actual stories, and see: my lack of ability to review short story collections. Having said that, let's just talk about a few of them:
Roselily: A story about a 'bad girl' who has 4 children already but has found a man to marry her, and she doesn't quite know how she feels about this. I kind of liked the form more than the story- it's an internal monologue that goes on in-between the lines of the wedding service and kind of blew me away as the first story in the collection. It's almost more like poetry than prose, and it's pretty special.
"Really, Doesn't Crime Pay?": About a woman whose husband doesn't understand her and so she has an affair with another man, to whom she tells all the stories that she can't risk writing down. All of which seems to be going really well, until he betrays her in the worst way...
Everyday Use: A story that I think is all about Walker's dislike of a certain kind of black activism, that involves both disdaining 'ignorant/unenlightened' black women, whilst also revering the things that they've made. Basically: bitchy elder daughter goes back home having decided her upbringing wasn't good enough, and wants some precious family quilts, over her younger, quiet, severely burnt sister. It's all very nuanced and interesting and I could probably analyse it forever. But, you know, I won't...
The Flowers: A sort of shocking, really really sad two-page story that I'm not going to give away basically any of because it's kind of the whole thing. But seriously, it's really really sad.
And those really are just a few of my favourites, but to be honest, it's alllll good. Seriously.
So, if you're looking for a collection of short stories to knock your socks off, then this one should do it. I feel very naughty having neglected this book for so long, but so glad to have read it now, even more so because it's a book that applies for like FOUR challenges, which is fairly awesome (to me, because these are the things that count as achievements in my LIFE). And my advice to you, if you don't want to read this, is to read a book that you've bought but discounted many times. It might just make your heart happy.
I read this book as part of the Fuck the Patriarchy Readathon. If you'd like to donate to Rape Crisis, please visit this Justgiving page. Thanks!