I have read this book possibly two dozen times and each time I am still amazed by it and find more things to think about and talk about. If you’ve never read it, you should do so immediately. It is one of the most amazingly alive books in American literature. At the beginning of the novel we get a kind of collective narrative voice talking about Janie Woods (Killicks, Stark) coming back into town. The gossip is heated as we’re told that she ran off with a younger man even though her husband was barely in the ground. There’s both a sadness about the tone, but with all gossip also a little glee. There’s a sense that feelings are mixed and at least some number of people think Janie got what she was after.
Janie stops at a friend’s porch and shares what has happened to her over the last year or more since she left town. But since we’re the audience too, Janie tells us about growing up in her grandmother’s house, how she didn’t realize she was Black until she was a little older, and her first experience with a boy. This last experience causes her grandmother to start looking for a possible husband for her. She settles on Logan Killicks, a local farmer, who Janie thinks has a weird-shaped head. Before too long it’s clear he sees her more as a farmhand than an equal, and so she starts wondering what else might be out there for her. Along comes Joe Starks, a fast-talking business man who plans on joining an all-Black town that has been built in Florida on a granted land. She decides to go with him, realizes before it’s too late that she’s traded a little excitement for much of the same kind of control and lack of regard she found in her first marriage. After 20 years, Joe dies, and Janie has time to think a little before she tries to decide what she wants. In walks Teacake Woods, a much younger man who is a bit of a gambler, a smooth-talker, but also an earnest man who falls head over heels with Janie. In spite of what might be working against them, they move with each other down to the southern part of Florida to try things out on their own.