I loved each of these finely drawn, often heart breaking vignettes of Black women. When we think of secret lives, we often think of sex – and there’s plenty of that in this book, but as in life, sex means so much more for each of these women. There’s a daughter, stealing moments of pleasure with a married man in a hospice parking lot while their mothers are inside. There’s a daughter, learning how to take crumbs and make them into a whole damn pie. There’s a daughter who moves north with her love and misses the warmth of her mother back home in the south for so many reasons. There’s a daughter. There’s a daughter. There’s a daughter. So much more than sex, this book is about being a daughter and a mother, and also a sister and lover and whole self.
The book has several chapters, each focusing on the perspective of a woman, often in relation to other women in her life. Some chapters read like a traditional story, others take different forms – a letter to an unmet sister; alternating diary entries and perspective of the great grandmother; a series of responses to a single question to tell a whole love story. A story of redemption, with ties to an earlier story, told only through a list of instructions. Philyaw’s writing takes many forms, but in all of them there is entertainment and enormous heart. She has so much empathy for every woman in these stories – often for both the abused and the abuser. She knows that sometimes we don’t get what we don’t want from the people that we love. We love them anyway.
The women in these stories are not concerned with being good. Or rather, they are aware that it ought to be their preoccupation, as women and Black women especially – but they each defy this expectation. Their deepest desires are not about what is happening outside but rather inside themselves. They each have to find their own way to satisfy those desires – regardless of what anyone else might think. These stories are so deeply human.
This book is quite short – each chapter flies by, my only complaint (which isn’t much of one) is that as soon as you’re lost in the story it’s over. Such is the beauty of any short story. Since this is Philyaw’s debut, I am looking forward to what she writes next.