Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

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Buddy Reads > Buddy Read: The Birds of Opulence

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message 1: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2892 comments Mod
This is the thread for the discussion of The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson.

The book discussion will begin on Sunday, May 13th.


message 2: by Gabriella (new)

Gabriella (quietbandit) | 13 comments Hi y’all: sorry for the delay with this group!

I moved out of my dorm this weekend, and haven’t yet found my copy while unpacking...hope to get started soon!!


message 3: by Gabriella (last edited May 18, 2018 11:53AM) (new)

Gabriella (quietbandit) | 13 comments Hi y'all, I have finally gotten far enough into this book to leave some comments! Per usual, Crystal Wilkinson raises a lot of topics and concerns with a few sharp, short characterizations and stories.

I'll leave a couple discussion questions she's brought to my mind:

1. In your community, what are some of the common impressions of women who are experiencing “madness”? (In Opulence's small town, there's definitely a certain bent to the gossip about said women.) How are they discussed? How are they treated?

2. Wilkinson includes many of her elder female character's musings about sexual promiscuity, and "fast tailed girls." In her omniscient narrative depictions of Opulence's women, however, Wilkinson is much more compassionate and unbiased to them. What did this disconnect do for you as a reader?

3. Finally, what did y'all think about the divide between the Goodes who remained in Opulence, and those who headed for more urban environments?

In Butter and June's porch scene on 100-101, they make it clear that they see even the present-day Opulence as “the past.” In a way, they treat the town just like they're treated by their mother, who has "come to prefer not the boys themselves, but the memories they trigger.”

To me, this all bears larger questions—are there new memories to be made in the rural, ancestral South, or is it too devoid of (economic, educational, political, etc.) opportunity to host a more promising future for many/most black families? Is there a certain ignorance in June and Butter's beliefs that all that's good in Opulence is in the past? Is there a certain nobility, as Minnie Mae believes, to remaining where you have roots, or is this a foolish dream?

For reference, I thought of Jesmyn Ward's work about choosing to raise her kids in her Mississippi hometown, and an op-ed by a fellow South Carolinian, Latria Graham, both of which hit on this very topic.


message 4: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2892 comments Mod
I am not as far in the book as you are.
I am up to p.63, so I have read sections 1962 & 1963.

So far I have found this book to a smooth reader that has me easily turning the pages to find out more about the characters.

I like the black small town southern setting and it definitely has the feels of such places I have visited/observed.

Yes, there is gossip as often in small towns - everyone knows everyone and lives are more on display for others.
While there is some individuality allowed, there are definite expectations.

While reading this beginning, the writing style reminded me somewhat of Tina McElroy Ansa.


message 5: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 563 comments I’m up to page 51, and read this far all in a single setting today. You’ve raised great questions. I need to think about what I read and consider them before responding.

I am so sad for several of these characters. So much pain.


message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 563 comments I'm around page 110 now.

1. In your community, what are some of the common impressions of women who are experiencing “madness”? (In Opulence's small town, there's definitely a certain bent to the gossip about said women.) How are they discussed? How are they treated?

I think there's a large urban-rural divide on both post-partum depression and mental illness, generally. Or I could be too much of an East Coast urban denizen and my judgment is unfair. In my community, mental illness is discussed as an illness the same as illness that presents with physical symptoms. Everyone knows someone who experienced PPD and signs to watch for, and would have gotten Lucy some help. It's also been my experience that every third person either has, or has a close family member who has, generalized anxiety, depression or other diagnosis and if you are willing to discuss your symptoms or observations about a family member, the community has access to and is swift to recommend resources. I don't believe this level of awareness is common in rural areas both because the mental health resources are difficult to access, and because money and research tends to be concentrated in areas with multiple universities. I am grateful for our access, but fear for women and families in communities where education on mental illness is scarce or less uncommon.

What troubled me most about Lucy was that she actually had family members all around her and yet her rejection of her baby is ignored as a symptom of something bigger. That baby should not have been dropped -- there are numerous folks in the room that had been in Lucy's presence for days and knew she wasn't in a good place -- and could have headed off that incident. If I remember correctly, there's a scene where Lucy is preparing to go to sleep and contemplates suffocating her baby. She doesn't, but ... still. I fault the family members who just waited for the shoe to drop. And then her daughter is 11. She got lucky, I suppose.

What were they all thinking??


message 7: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 563 comments 2. Wilkinson includes many of her elder female character's musings about sexual promiscuity, and "fast tailed girls." In her omniscient narrative depictions of Opulence's women, however, Wilkinson is much more compassionate and unbiased to them. What did this disconnect do for you as a reader?

Wilkinson condemns her own characters - reveals the pain and harshness of this judgment and stands squarely in support of the targets of these comments and judgments. Wilkinson does a particularly good job of illustrating that the girls who are the targets of these judgments receive absolutely zero information about their bodies, the menstrual cycle, sex, birth control. Not one jot of facts with which to understand the connection between sex and reproduction. Poor Tookie. Minnie Mae infuriates me time after time with her cruelty and disdain for her own daughter. And no wonder Tookie struggles with how to parent Lucy.


message 8: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 563 comments In terms of your last set of questions regarding the value of staying where home - writ large - is versus ditching it for better economic opportunities, thereby participating in its demise, I'm not feeling like Birds of Opulence is telling that story with much depth, at least as far as I've read. I don't actually even feel as if I'm in Kentucky, but in some nameless, faceless rural Appalachian community. I'm enjoying Wilkinson's style immensely, but it's reminding me of Another Brooklyn in that beautiful sentences are telling me vignettes and connected experiences. I recall at the time being a strong AB cheerleader based on the writing, but many of my reading friends were frustrated by the lack of (perceived) depth to the characters and wanting to read fuller, more detailed stories. Here, with Birds of Opulence, I'm having a similar wish. I want to feel more invested in and connected to Lucy. to Francine. To Yolanda. To Mona. Even to Joe. I don't, though. I don't really know how they are surviving, why they stay or go (other than the standard, turning over a new leaf), what motivates them.


message 9: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2892 comments Mod
1. In your community, what are some of the common impressions of women who are experiencing “madness”? (In Opulence's small town, there's definitely a certain bent to the gossip about said women.) How are they discussed? How are they treated?

While over my life time I have seen much progress in the treatment, understanding in "madness", I do think that there is still much to be done in about the "stigma" that is associated with "madness" and the availability of resources.
Yes, there is still gossiping about those who exhibit behavioral symptoms and there is still too much ignoring those who have those symptoms. And no wants to be known to have "madness" as this works negatively against them in job opportunities and in social situations.

But one thing that the book setting does well that is still true today is that when there is "madness", the whole family is affected economically and socially.
Too often, others who have not been affected by "madness" will not show empathy towards those who do.

While Lucy has the support of her family and others, they are not sure how to help her because of the time/place/attitudes. (And some of that still exists today) Women are expected to be thrilled when giving birth and many just do not understand that it is beyond their control when post-partum depression hits.

Then there is the attitude that Black women should not display "weakness" and be silent when they are suffering. They were not believed when expressing concerns and if they did there were not resources in a rural black community.


message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 563 comments I finished it last evening. The last twenty pages or so were luminous.


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