If we had jazz, would we have survived differently? If we had known our story was a blues story with a refrain running through it, would we have lifted our heads, said to each other, This is memory again and again until the living made sense? Where would we be now if we had known there was a melody to our madness (1-2)?
If a novel and a poem had a child, it would be this book—brief, beautiful, and biting–both sad and celebratory. I read it in one sitting and it just made me hurt. The piece defies easy plot summary because it is more like a song, beginning in one place and moving back and forward in time. The singer or the composer of this song is the narrator, August, a woman in her 30’s, an academic who has recently returned home to help bury her father. A chance encounter with an old friend on the subway sends her thoughts back in time to Brooklyn in the 1970’s.
These memories involve everything from the feelings of dislocation, having just moved to Brooklyn from Tennessee with her father and brother, to watching the crazy and fascinating swirl of life happening on the street down below their apartment window. These memories also focus on August’s friendship with three other young women—Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi—that develops over time. It’s a female coming of age story where growing up is a combination of boldness and fear, possibility and limits, support and betrayal.
Fragmented but vivid, Woodson’s short bursts of prose create strong images that linger and haunt. I recommend this book highly and I’m eager to read her earlier book, Brown Girl Dreaming, that is sitting on my shelf waiting for me.