The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor – A Review

The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories by Gloria Naylor
Literary Fiction | African American Fiction | Classics
Released June 2, 1982
Published by Penguin Random House
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my opinions.

For us readers, one of the best feelings in the world is discovering a new-to-you book or author that you instantly fall in love with. That’s exactly what happened to me when I read Gloria Naylor’s classic novel, The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories.

I didn’t know much about the novel when I saw that Penguin was releasing it as part of their beautiful Penguin Vitae series. I vaguely recognized Gloria Naylor’s name, but I had never heard of the book. The synopsis intrigued me though.

The Women of Brewster Place is a novel told through seven interconnected short stories featuring a variety of women who call Brewster Place home. We meet Mattie Michael, a woman who devoted her life to her son; her friend, Etta Mae Johnson, looking for a husband; Kiswana Brown, a young woman and activist trying to organize the people of Brewster Place to get their landlord to take responsibility; Luciela Louise Turner, suffering from the grief of losing a child; Cora Lee, who loves babies but has many children that she struggles to take care of; and Lorraine and Theresa, a lesbian couple who encounter prejudice and hate for their lifestyle.

Each of the characters is so well-developed that it’s almost hard to imagine them as not being real. I connected the most with the very first woman we meet in the book, Mattie. Her story is painful to read, especially as I have met people as devoted to their children as Mattie is, at the detriment of their own lives and happiness.

Gloria Naylor’s writing is impeccable and poetic. There’s a paragraph in the first chapter that I have found myself coming back to over and over again since finishing this book earlier in the week:

“Time’s passage through the memory is like molten glass that can be opaque or crystallize at any given moment at will: a thousand days are melted into one conversation, one glance, one hurt, and one hurt can be shuttered and sprinkled over a thousand days. It is silent and elusive, refusing to be dammed and dripped out day by day; it swirls through the mind while an entire lifetime can ride like foam on the deceptive, transparent waves and get sprayed onto the consciousness at ragged, unexpected intervals.”

I very rarely mention trigger warnings in my reviews, but I would like to point out that The Women of Brewster Place contains one of the most brutal rape scenes that I’ve read in a book. It was incredibly painful to read through. Please don’t let it put you off reading this masterpiece of a book, however.

After finishing this novel, I discovered that Gloria Naylor wrote a sequel that was released in 1998. Following the same format, The Men of Brewster Place shares the stories of the men we encounter in the original novel.

As much as I adored this book and the author’s gorgeous writing, I’m still undecided as to whether I’d like to read the sequel. Many of the reviews I’ve seen of the second book are lukewarm at best, and I would hate for it to take away from the mastery of Naylor’s original stories.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I was shocked that I had never read a Gloria Naylor book before, especially in school. With the rape scene, I understand if it’s not taught in high schools, but this should definitely be taught in as many university classes as it will fit into. It portrays the lives and struggles of African American women in the 1970s, but many of the issues faced by the characters are still relevant today.

The Penguin Vitae edition has a very moving introduction by Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage. I’d recommend buying this particular edition for that introduction alone, although the beautiful cover and high production quality don’t hurt.

Again, I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it. I was blown away by Gloria Naylor’s writing style that flowed like poetry while tackling incredibly difficult topics.

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