The five stories in Ernest Gaines' Bloodline explore various stages of life from the perspective of poor African Americans in the early 20th century.The five stories in Ernest Gaines' Bloodline explore various stages of life from the perspective of poor African Americans in the early 20th century. The first two stories are told from the perspective of a child, the second from the perspective of a 19-year-old, the fourth from the perspective of a 70-year-old, and the final from a variety of quickly shifting perspectives.
From these very different perspectives, Gaines is able to provide an in-depth analysis of racism, poverty, and masculinity among black people in the South (most stories seem to be set in Louisiana). The final story does not focus on masculinity, but the other four do. They raise questions of what responsibilities a man has toward his family ("A Long Day in November"), what kind of pride and self-reliance a man (or, really, any responsible person--the lesson learned here is not specifically for males, but the child who learns it is a young boy) ought to have ("The Sky Is Gray"), what social pressures and attitudes work to create a certain class of black man and destroy the manhood that the first two stories show characters trying to develop ("Three Men"), and what a man who is willing to stand up for himself and demand his rights looks like ("Bloodline"). Interestingly, in these four stories, the actions that transform these men into real men or that represent true manhood are coded as insane. One man burns his nice car up to save his marriage, a mother teaches her son to turn aside even minor assistance, a young man determines to go to prison rather than get bailed out by a white man, and a mulatto man returns to his white father's plantation to demand his birthright. To some degree, all of these actions counter received ideas about what is sane or normal, but these actions are necessary to establish manhood, responsibility, personal dignity. The fact that they are or can be read as insane says a great deal about the culture in which these people must live and that culture's response to them.
As a secondary theme, religion is repeatedly set aside by these stories. Sometimes the preacher figure simply lets down a character where a hoodoo woman is able to help, other times characters speak out against religion explicitly, but in no case is Christianity a real solution to the problems inherent in society or in individual's lives. In fact, the characters who rely on God to answer their problems are shown to be weak or deluded. As Copper says, in "Bloodline," "I used to pray once. . . . I used to pray and pray and pray. But the same God I was praying to was created by the same ones I was praying against. And Gods only listen to the people who create them. So I quite my praying--there would have to be another way" (214).
Of the five stories, I would definitely teach "The Sky Is Gray," "Three Men," or "Bloodline." Each of these stories develops an intriguing central character and raises important questions for discussion. ...more
My first instinct is to say of this book that it's essentially Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven--but less interesting.My first instinct is to say of this book that it's essentially Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven--but less interesting. This doesn't really do Sarris's book justice, but it is the most accurate way I can find to describe it and the way that it fits into my recent reading of Native American literature.
The details of each book are different, obviously--Sarris and Alexie develop different characters, and both authors develop complex, believable characters--but both books are novels-in-stories set on the reservation, in which the stories are told from various characters' perspectives and storytelling itself is a central theme of the text. However, where Alexie's book plays with perspective, realism, the impact of the stories, and much larger themes, Sarris's book remains fairly straightforward. Sarris tells the story of this community in a series of first person stories (with a couple of notable exceptions) in which it is always quickly clear who is telling the story and, thanks to the genealogy he provides at the beginning of the book, how this narrator is related to the other narrators of the book. Each story could stand on its own but also enhances the others that have come before and that will follow in the collection.
Ultimately, Sarris's novel-in-stories is a really excellent exploration of a particular community and its members in traditional short story format. It's good, but it doesn't match the complexity and depth of Alexie's exploration of Indian-ness and humanity through his stories and reflections.
I feel like this review makes Sarris's book sound like it's not a good one. But it really is. It is a well-written, at times really moving set of stories that happens to suffer in my experience by reading it just after having read Alexie's book. As illustrations of what Greg Sarris does really well, here are a couple of my favorite excerpts. The first is the opening of the first story, which told me that I would enjoy this book: "My name is Jasmine, but I'm no sweet-smelling flower. Names are just parents' dreams, after all" (3).
The second comes from "Joy Ride," in the middle of the book: "You dream and plan, plan and dream--and then there's life, the everyday way of the world. It's like ivy. It looks pretty at first, the way it climbs a tree. Then it takes the life right out of the tree, strangles it. You have your firstborn and it's the most beautiful thing you know, so beautiful you decide to have the second one, which you didn't plan for, even though you can hardly afford the first. Then the third and fourth appear, but it's all right because your mother-in-law moves in and helps with her social security check. You open your eyes and realize you're too far under water and haven't taken a breath of air for some time. You learn to live without breathing" (114).
It is this kind of beauty that makes Sarris's book worth reading....more
There are essentially two types of stories in this collection: stories that illuminate a part of the human experience through a story about a specificThere are essentially two types of stories in this collection: stories that illuminate a part of the human experience through a story about a specific emotion or event (e.g., "Feeling Old" or "Feathers") and stories that reflect upon stories themselves (e.g., "You Were Real, the White Radical Said to Me" or "What Indians Do"). My favorites belong to the latter category, stories that are reflective, beautifully written (like poetry, really), and meaningful in a way that gives the whole collection, really the whole endeavor of writing or telling stories, significance.
In "You Were Real, the White Radical Said to Me," for instance, Ortiz writes about having agreed to read his poetry publicly,
"Ah man. Ah man, I don't know why, but I do. I do it for myself, for my people, for the source, for the words that are sacred because they come from a community of people and all life. I do it because I ache for help and because we all need help.
"And that's the way I read the poems that night. And that's the way I sing the songs that night. And that's the way I tell the stories that night.
"The words come from Clay, the old man who carried a brown leather bag on his shoulder when he went from family to family teaching them.
"They come from the Felipe brothers who led a New Mexico state unto Acoma land and wiped him out.
"They come from the brown man with stifled and troubled dreams sprawled at the corner of 5th and Mission.
"They come from the frozen and unfortunate winter of Beauty Roanhorse on the reservation road between Klagetoh and Sanders Bar.
"Ah man. Ah man, they come from me. They come from them. They come and they come, and I return and return them." (126-7)
Similarly, in "What Indians Do," Ortiz writes about singing a song and watching his audience's response:
"When the song is finished, the muscles in the Indian man's face are set tensely for a moment, and then he smiles. And I know that the words mean something, that the meaning of the stories, the songs, the words continue. They continue. They continue" (139)....more
This anthology is a useful collection and contains some wonderful fiction. However, its subtitle, "A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African DThis anthology is a useful collection and contains some wonderful fiction. However, its subtitle, "A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora," led me to expect a collection of texts that really does attempt to represent the last century. Instead, only one third of the book is constituted by stories that were published prior to the year 2000 (ranging chronologically from 1887 to 1999). This places the emphasis of the book less on revealing how much black SF has been written in the past and the traditions of black SF or black writers who venture into SF and more on introducing new voices in black SF and encouraging contemporary black writers of SF. That is a worthy goal; I don't mean to imply that it's not. It's just not what I expected.
The inclusion of the few short critical pieces at the end of the anthology is a nice touch. Featuring essays by Samuel Delany, Charles Saunders, Walter Mosley, Paul Miller (DJ Spooky), and Octavia Butler, the book approaches the question of race in science fiction from a variety of perspectives.
Regarding the stories themselves, there are many that are excellent. I particularly enjoyed (and might like to teach at some point) the following:
**"Sister Lilith" by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (2000), a re-telling of the Creation story from the perspective of Lilith, Adam's first wife. **"The Comet" by W. E. B. DuBois (1920), which addresses issues of inequality and prejudice in the aftermath of a disaster that kills millions. **an excerpt from Black No More by George S. Schuyler (1931), a story about a scientist who invents a way to turn black people white and what happens as a result. I plan to read the whole novel based on the excerpt included here. **"separation anxiety" by Evie Shockley (2000), set in a future America built on segregation/separation of racial groups. **"Can You Wear My Eyes" by Kalamu ya Salaam (2000). This one is interesting to me because it speaks less directly to racial experience and more to the experience of gender. **"Like Daughter" by Tananarive Due (2000), a story about abuse and second chances that made me cry. **"The Evening and the Morning and the Night" by Octavia Butler (1987). I just always like Butler. **"The Space Traders" by Derrick Bell (1992), a story about politics and race relations in America, centered around a first contact scenario in which an alien race offers America wondrous technology and great riches in exchange for all African American citizens....more
I picked this book up at Half Price Books a couple of weeks ago, not having read any of this series of collections before. I'm so glad I did. This isI picked this book up at Half Price Books a couple of weeks ago, not having read any of this series of collections before. I'm so glad I did. This is a wonderful way to find great short science fiction. I have subscriptions to Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, and Analog, which brings lots of good short SF to my door, but this introduces lots of fiction that I would not be able to find on my own.
Some favorites from this collection: "The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi, "Scout's Honor" by Terry Bisson, "Leviathan Wept" by Daniel Abraham, "Shiva in Shadow" by Nancy Kress, "Riding the White Bull" by Caitlin R. Kiernan, "Footvote" by Peter F. Hamilton, and "Mayflower II" by Stephen Baxter.
The stories by Bisson, Kress, Kiernan, Hamilton, and Baxter are really fantastic, filled with lovely writing and fascinating ideas. And this particular combination of authors illustrates just what I like about this collection. Bisson and Baxter are familiar names to me and I have other instances of their work already, but the others--Kress, Kiernan, and Hamilton--are new to me. So the collection is extremely useful in introducing new work by familiar authors and in introducing new authors to a broader public (and to me).
All of these stories (and the many stories I didn't mention here--there wasn't a single story I didn't enjoy) are well worth reading and worth being singled out for the collection; Bacigalupi and Abraham's stories are ones, however, that deserve special mention. I plan to incorporate both of these stories into my fall literature course. Bacigalupi's story is about human relationships with animals, both sentimental and practical, and Abraham's story is a political thriller about terrorism and religion. Both raise questions I want to address in my class and manage to do so in new (especially to a group of students who don't really read SF) and interesting ways.
Since beginning to read this collection, I've bought as many of the others of this series as I've been able to by browsing my local Half Price Books stores. I can't wait to read more. ...more
I wanted to like this book. It's a collection of a bunch of science fiction stories by women that I haven't already read in every other such anthologyI wanted to like this book. It's a collection of a bunch of science fiction stories by women that I haven't already read in every other such anthology. With the exception of three stories (one being "Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler), these stories were new to me.
However, most of the stories left me cold. The attempt to choose unfamiliar stories seems to have meant choosing less awesome stories. To my taste, the stories in the final section devoted to "The 80s and Beyond" were the best (including Lee Killough's "Symphony for a Lost Traveler," Maureen F. McHugh's "The Missionary's Child," and Karen Joy Fowler's "The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things"), but this is only a small portion of the book.
The biggest problem I had with this book, though, was not in the choice of stories included. The editing is just terrible. And it is terrible on multiple levels. The copyediting is terrible: there are so many typos, not just in the introductions to the stories but in the stories themselves, some of them even inhibiting the clarity of the narrative. The fact-checking is terrible: several stories are placed in one chronological section (say the 1960s and 1970s) but really belong in another, authors' names are misspelled or misrepresented, and some publication dates for stories are just wrong. And the writing is bad, too. On top of all of that, in a book devoted to women writers of science fiction, the presentation of feminism hews frighteningly close to negative anti-feminist stereotypes.
In short, I wouldn't recommend this book. If you are looking for less commonly anthologized science fiction stories by women writers, you might find something worth reading here (I don't pretend that my tastes in SF are the same as everyone else's), but beware: its myriad mistakes make this a sometimes frustrating read, an unreliable source on some points, and considerably less worthy of the time and effort required to read it than are most anthologies....more