Monday, October 12, 2009

Soothing Sisterhoods

Some things just go down sweetly like the golden yummy of Black Madonna's honey. Such has been my recent morsel of fiction, The Wednesday Sisters. I really enjoyed the ensemble characters and frankly, did not expect to like it as much as I did. The story and the women have settled in my heart, much like the ensemble characters from Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees.

The setting of both books was during the tumultuous times of the 1960s. One was early in the decade and in the south, the other was later in the decade as its moonlight faded to the sunrise of the 1970s and in the far west. Each was set against the backdrop of history being made that ultimately shaped the women and in many ways, shaped my world today. Who would have known that the challenges women faced then could transcend their race? I never expected this, I entered the reading of The Wednesday Sisters as a prep for reading The Help later this fall.

I am like many black women in their mid-forties, not a feminist. I coin the phrase my elder sister and husband gave me, womanist. I am a firm believer in the possibilities of my gender, despite the continuing limitations that men attempt to place on us. My father never raised me to believe I could only fit into certain boxes, he made me take Algebra just as he made my brothers.

The women in both books developed these deep and lasting connections through the universal sorority. In The Secret Life of Bees, it was the Black Madonna and the girl, Lily, who found connection in the Boatright sisters and in The Wednesday Sisters, it was motherhood and a neighborhood park that connected these unrelated women. I found myself in all of them.

I think one thing that watered my palette for each book was that they were writers. Lily, the little girl struggling to overcome personal tragedy and find her voice. Frankie, Ally, Brett, Linda, Kath, all finding sense of their limitations through a sharing of words. Each of these women spoke to the known need of opening up our vulnerabilities for someone else, hidden from view much like Brett's scared hands, ensconced in white gloves, protecting from harsh criticism. The women all seemingly understood each's desire for more than the times would give.

August almost missed out on the love of her life through her defiant stance of not wanting to be boxed into the role marriage brought the women of Palo Alto. Brett should have been an astronaut, Linda secretly wanted to burn her bra and march with the burgeoning feminist movement, Frankie played tug-of-war with her own sense of inadequacies because she didn't have a college degree like the other women. In the 1960s, white women went to college to get a husband, black women, those who were able like August Boatright, went to college to get a future.

The five women of The Wednesday Sisters almost wanted me to shout at them for their sheltered world, their ease of life, even with husbands just beginning their careers, even despite Ally's secret Indian husband, these women did not have the life challenges of their contemporaries in The Secret Life of Bees. None of them had to worry about their sons being arrested in the movie theatre or simply shunned for the color of their skin. Yet, like them I did and do, they all feel like new friends, like women I understand.

Both books are ones I'd recommend to anyone who wanted something soothing and satisfying. Each lends itself to a book club discussion as issues of the Civil Rights Era and the Women's Movement stormed through all parts of America. The tomorrows these women could only hope for their sons and daughters was being shaped by their brave steps against conformity.

Kath probably never divorced Lee, despite her eventual successful career in publishing. Ally along with her finally-born children probably continued to get stares because of their multicultural family during a time such a thing was still illegal in the hearts, despite overturned laws. Frankie and Brett became the future shaping authors I hope to become. Linda took the veil off breast cancer and showed that a woman is more than her breasts and her hair. They will stay with me, just as the death of May hurt my heart, the strength of June as a business owner and woman who chose her freedom over a man, and the eventual understanding of August that she could both change the world and have love continue to stay with me long after the book was closed.

I love good books. Stories that I keep on my list to share with my girls when they reach each. Our lives can be shaped by the words of others, through the shared experiences of history and moments of testing. These stories are as clearly comforting as the organic white tea that warms my soul on a cold October evening.

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