So our second week's reading covers quite a bit of time. I have to say, I'm pretty happy with where Nadia has turned up so far. I was really worried that some problem would arise that would stop her from being able to attend college, and I'm glad to see that wasn't the case. Most likely my fear was a bi-product of TASB still. I keep having to remind myself that this is a very different kind of novel we are reading here.
Along with (finally) getting to college, Nadia also gets a new boyfriend. So far, I gotta say, I'm a fan. I hope they stick together. I know that this isn't a story about falling in love and living happily ever after, and is more about Nadia's independence and relationships with the women around her, and I love that it's not a "romance" novel, but still. I am a sucker for romance.
We get a lot more information on Aubrey this week, and her background is truly heartbreaking. I love seeing the relationship between her and Nadia: how different their experiences with their mothers are and how that affects how they see one another. At first, I think that Nadia is very confused about Aubrey and almost resentful (though not in a mean way) of how Aubrey could choose to leave her mother. Her final realization of the level of abuse that Aubrey was escaping from is really a moment of clarity for her;
"Nadia finally understood, why aubrey had left and why her mother had let her, why her sister had helped her create a bedroom out of a disney movie, why Mrs. sheppard cherished her. in a way, nadia almost felt lucky. at least her mother had been sick- at least she'd only tried to hurt herself. at least her mother would've never let a man hit her child. her mother was dead, but what could be worse than knowing that your mother was alive somewhere but that she wanted a man who hit her more than she wanted you?" (77).
In the novel, Nadia's realization also brings up the topic of discipline. Bennett writes, "Nadia couldn't imagine a grown man hitting her. Even when she'd misbehaved as a child, her father had always carried her to her mother, who did the spanking, as if discipline were something to be dealt with between women," (77). I've always been partial to physical discipline being a last resort, but reading this did spawn a discussion between my husband and I about who would spank our daughter (when/if we have one and when/if she truly needs a spanking). I like the idea that Bennett puts here, that physical discipline kept between women can further instill into the minds of our daughters that being hit by a man, even a father figure, is abnormal and unimaginable.
Though we don't get a lot from Aubrey herself, what we do get is heartbreaking. At first only physical abuse is alluded to, but as our segment this week progresses, it becomes more and more clear that that is not the entire story, until, finally, we end on this heart wrenching note;
"'When I was little, I used to think I had superpowers...like i could smell if a man was good or bad. Or I could jump out of my skin when he touched me...And I could hear really good...I could hear him moving throughout the apartment, like a rat clicking through the pipes. I could hear him before he got to my room. and I always wondered why my mom never heard but I told myself she couldn't. because she didn't have super senses,'" (145).
Luke is also given a lot more characterization in this segment. As a character, I don't particularly like Luke, but I do like the fact that he is given his own side, which is three dimensional and rounded, as opposed to being flat and stereotypical. I like the fact that we finally get an explanation as to why Luke never meets Nadia at the abortion clinic, though I don't like his reason and I don't like his resentment of both Nadia and his Mother for being accessories to his child's aborting.
Then we have the budding romance between Luke and Aubrey. I definitely think that we are being set up for a big explosion when the secret of Luke and Nadia's baby is discovered, but for now I am content to read about their growing relationship. I think that, at the moment, Aubrey's influence is improving Luke. He gets out of rehab and gets to work on his future, planning to become a physical therapist, a decision that is daunting to him, but also exciting. The one thing that worries me, is Chapter Five's opening, and whether it is meant to foreshadow Luke and Aubrey's future;
"We were girls once. As hard as that is to believe. Oh, you can't see it now...but we were girls once, which is to say, we have all loved an ain't shit man. no christian way of putting it. there are two types of men in the world; men who are and men who ain't about shit...no shame in loving an ain't shit man, long as you get it out your system good and early. a tragic woman hooks into an ain't-shit man, or worse, lets him hook into her. he will drag her until he tires. he will climb atop her shoulders and her body will sag from the weight of loving him. yes, those are the ones we worry about," (87-8).
As this segment of The Mother's wisdom comes right before we are re-introduced to Luke, it is definitely worrying that this may be a foreshadowing of where that romance is headed.
Lastly, I just want to mention the ongoing race relations that we see in this novel, especially since its depiction of Black American Communities is a large part of why I wanted to read this novel (as well as being a sucker for romance, I am also a sucker for global and multicultural literature). Whereas in our first reading section, we saw a lot about how the Black community at the center of the novel interacts with communities outside their own (and this does continue especially in interactions between Luke and the Hawaiian Cherry), now we get to see how they interact with each other and their approach to different generations and stereotypes. I think a really strong part, other than The Mother's discussion about "ain't shit men", and a part that I particularly liked (mostly because it called out Luke's annoying tendencies) was the interactions between Luke and Bill, another patient at the rehab center;
"'That's the problem with you brothas,' Bill said. 'You got lazy. You know why? Because you know these young sistas will pick up the slack. Grown men living with their mamas, whole mess of kids running around, ain't got a job. somewhere along the way we became a race of men happy to let women take care of us.' Luke had grown up listening to old folks at upper room make similar speeches, about how they'd fought so hard just to watch his generation throw any progress away," (138-9).
Not only is Bill mentioning a lot about Luke's specific situation, but he is also calling out a stereotype about Black men in a way that both recognizes the truth behind the stereotype, but also proves that the stereotype can not be applied as widely as it often is in society.
- In this section, Nadia leaves for college, and it is revealed that she doesn't return for some time. Why do you think she chooses not to return to visit Aubrey and her father? How are her interactions within and without the black community different now that she has left her home in California?
- There is a lot of foreshadowing around Luke and Aubrey, both about their relationship in general, and in the secret that sits between them about Luke and Nadia's baby. What do you think we are being set up for?
- What do you think about Bennett's approach to Black stereotypes? What characters, if any, do you feel fit in with society's image of Black communities? Does Bennett use certain characters to fight against those stereotypes? If so, which ones?