I first read a Toni Cade Bambara story in like 4th or 5th grade with “Raymond’s Run”. This kind of thing happens a lot, where because the story is narrated by a child and the characters are children (a brother and sister) it’s presumed that it’s for children. The rest of the collection of stories, Gorilla My Love, definitely shows that this was not really for children. Reading the rest of the collection in college, I furthered my feeling of who I thought Toni Cade Bambara was based on that collection. The stories are good, and the read a lot more “mid-century American” then the other of her books would really show. So I had this limiting and limited sense of who she was as a writer.
Both this book and her 1995ish novel Those Bones are Not My Child show something very very different. That book dealt with a community grief and trauma of the Atlanta child killings in 1980, while also placing that grief within the context of post radical era paranoia and politics.
This novel does something different, although written during the late 1970s, where it tries to reckon with the exhaustion and grief of post-Civil Rights era of the late 1960s (I am thinking of course of more Black Panther and Black Arts more than the specific figures of the Civil Rights movement). We have a community of healers, but rather than being a kind of ascetic or mystic group ala an earlier period of American history/literature, it’s a much more modern group, with massage, alternative medicine, and holistic practice. The novel is also peppered with contemporary references throughout, really showing the attempts to carve out a new future from the present, and with a shaky feeling about the past. The novel is much more intense and less, well, historical feeling than I thought it was going to be. In a lot of ways, it ends up being a very 1980s novel.