Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

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book discussions > Discussion: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

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message 1: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments The discussion book for November is Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans and the discussion, led by Bill, will begin here on November 1. Meanwhile, I just wanted to let everyone know that Danielle Evans is the subject of a Debut Author Snapshot here on Goodreads. You can read the interview and leave messages for the author at this link:

http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/s...


message 2: by William (last edited Oct 15, 2010 09:37PM) (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
A word of friendly advice to those who plan to join us in our November discussion in 2 weeks. Seems that, at least in the DC area, this book is quite the hot commodity. You should probably try to start to secure your copy now. All of the library copies in the city and surrounding counties were checked out and the local Borders had run out..although they did promise a new shipment of 50 over the weekend...I'm looking forward to reading and discussing this exciting new author.


message 3: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Danielle Evans was chosen by The Root as one of five young Black authors who are part of "a new wave of young, gifted and black writers getting rave reviews, publishing deals and even a few national tours. Nick Burd, Danielle Evans, (playwright) Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Ernessa T. Carter, and Gary Jackson are five writers who have all written accomplished debuts, penning stories and plays and poetry that are both literary and provocative. All have distinctive voices and write on myriad themes."

Here's the link:

http://www.theroot.com/views/five-you...


message 4: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Hello November LFPC book discussants. Since I don't have a copy of the book handy right now and can't refer back to specific stories and characters I'll just start off the disscussion with some general questions. I have opinions that I will share as the discussion progresses but I first wanted to know what the readers thought of the general tone of most of the stories. Were the stories and characters realistic? Were they hopeful or despairing? I think that every one of the stories were poigniant to say the least but were the choices these mostly female, mostly young people made "valid" in your eyes or misguided? Did the under current of pathos in the stories detract from your enjoyment of the book or enhance its realism?
I'll ask more specific questions and make observations of the stories when I get my book nearby...following the order that they appear in the book...feel free to skip around in your answers but a gently placed 'spoiler alert' for those who haven't finished might be helpful when talking about the latter stories.


message 5: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Hello Christine. Glad to have you join our discussions. I like that descriptive: punchy. There were quite a few unexpected "punchy" developments in the stories. The resolution of "Virgins" was punchy to be sure and one I did not see coming. But I rather liked the story in that it did seem to me to be the way that I see teens and young adults relate to each other now. I also must confess to being the father of 2 such mystical creatures and am witnes to the casual friendships that exist between the sexes unlike the demarcations and boundaries we had back in the stone ages. That Micheal was best friends with both Jasmine and the narrator (I don't think she ever gave her name) and not be "hooked up" or lusting after either seems pretty much how they exist now to just hang out together. But the girls are keenly aware of their sexual power over men and don't even trust their former teacher and summer respite provider. I really liked Mr. Thompsons answer when asked by one of the kids if Italians were White...some comic relief in an otherwise not too happy, ending wise, story.


message 6: by George (new)

George | 766 comments Just picked up the book, so I'll be chiming in somewhere down the road, now that I'm back in town.


message 7: by Serena (new)

Serena (reenuhgee) I'm impatiently awaiting my copy from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library. If anyone in Charlotte is waiting as well it will get to you slowly but surely.


message 8: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
I gotta disagree with you about Michael, Christine...He was their safe haven and protector..He even rescued them (well, her anyway) from a very dangerous situation. It was her, the nameless narrator, who became the predator and applied the pressure to Michael by climbing into his bed after losing her virginity to his brother. I think that Michael stood alone as a "good guy" among the males in the story but even he was flawed in that he had "moved on" from having sex with his of color peers and now exclusively dated older white coeds..


message 9: by Toni (new)

Toni (mshoni) | 41 comments I also found Michael to be a "safe haven" for the girls. I add a similar friend in high school, so I really empathized with Michael, as it's tough for them to be seen by their peers as a possible romantic interest. Dating elsewhere may be how he made peace with that situation.


message 10: by Toni (new)

Toni (mshoni) | 41 comments I like the premise that he found it easier. Some of our communities can be pretty insulating and dating outside of it also means that they don't know your personal history. The girls at his school and in his neighborhood know him,his family, his history. He can probably be a whole different person with his co-eds.
This is the great thing about these stories. Each one could have easily been made into a full length novel.


message 11: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Like the commercial says..."sometimes you just gotta get away"...seems to me that Michael dances to a different drummer...he opts out of their small community and extensive grapevine. Has no part of Jasmine and her all consuming ex-boyfriend/Cindy drama and generally seems to float above the young adult madness of Jasmine and the narrator. His "outsider" status makes him perfect for his role of the girls nonjudgemental companion and protector. It also seems to ease his entry into the world of dating white college girls...

I agree Toni that each of these economical short stories, less than 30 pages each, contain a lot of full length themes. I'll try to feature 2 of the 8 stories in the contents order each week, with a question or observation about them. But as a disccussant feel free to jump around. And those still reading jump in at any time, each story stands on its own.


message 12: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3863 comments Mod
I'm like so many others. Been waiting for just 1 of 9 copies to become available at my local library. Hope to start reading before the month is out.

For those in the DC area, Evans will be reading and signing her book at the Borders downtown on K Street Nov 8th @ 6:30pm.


message 13: by George (last edited Nov 04, 2010 04:32PM) (new)

George | 766 comments I thought it was an interesting story, realistic on the keeping it real level. I think within the context of the story, Michael is something of a safe haven, certainly more so than the other, mostly faceless, men portrayed. Not exactly St. Michael, but not Mr. Goodbar either. At least he isn't going to force anything, but if the situation seems right, not against taking his own shot. interestingly enough, the girls don't completely trust Mr. Thompson either, since no one would consider going to his pool alone. the men do seem to be mostly predatory and the girls we meet confused about their roles. for me the story seems to be saying, in the end women have to look out for themselves, as nobody else will.

As for Michael and white girls, I suppose we're all free to bring our own baggage to that, since we never meet any of them and he doesn't really talk about it. So, any opinion could be right, yours, mine or anyone else's or, we could all be wrong. just no way to know. it just is, within the story. girls are told to stay away from white guys, men apparently aren't told to stay away from white women.

I also liked Mr. Thompson and the Italians, white, ask the Ethiopian line. very nice. unexpected humor in a story largely lacking any.


message 14: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Yes Snakes was a great read..and the poignant ending was off the charts..which I won't spoil right now for those still reading...my only quibble with it was...the Grandmom..if your daughter married into a Black family and you had a biracial granddaughter..how could you be so insensitive/ignorant as to not understand plaits, berets, Black hair or practically anything to do with Black culture...was that realistic?


message 15: by George (last edited Nov 04, 2010 11:53PM) (new)

George | 766 comments Well, it's pretty clear that grandmom had no intention of learning about such things, and that all things to do with Black culture, reminded her of her own unwanted connection to it and irritated and embarrassed her a great deal. she did tell the folks at the country club her granddaughter was adopted from Brazil. of course, it seems like she hadn't been around her granddaughter much if at all, so she probably was largely ignorant about such things, even if she was quite comfortable in her ignorance. can't say who irritated me more though, grandmom or the parents who sent her there for the summer. I much preferred this story of the first two, and the ending was very interesting.


message 16: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I agree with Christine and George - I found the grandmother's reprehensible behavior to be quite realistic. I assume that the daughter's liberal attitudes were a reaction to her mother's racism. How messed up do you have to be to say that your own grandchild is adopted? I thought that this was a superb short story.

I thought that "Virgins" was a good story also and was totally believable in terms of the situations that teenage girls can naively get themselves into. It was interesting to me that apparently this is the story for which Evans first attracted critical attention - it was published in the Paris Review. Perhaps this is why it was chosen to begin the collection, even though some of the other stories are even stronger.


message 17: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Tara starts off in the story as a very sympathetic character. As a child she seems to be the innocent victim. But she certainly becomes less so as the story progresses. Though her grandmother was cruel for instilling in her such an extreme phobia of snakes, didn't Tara milk it for all it was worth. In essence she turned the tables on her grandmother with equal doses of cruelty.


message 18: by George (new)

George | 766 comments I think she did start out as innocent, but she learned at her grandmother's feet. I have a hard time seeing her actions towards her grandmother as cruelty though, much less equal. and certainly nothing would compare to the shearing off of her hair she got from the grandmother. the snake story was a bit wierd to me. don't know why she'd make up stories about pythons, when water moccasins are common enough in North Florida, not to mention the odd gator. but I suppose it did the trick she intended and then some.


message 19: by Janet (new)

Janet | 225 comments also - how/is a child's cruelty different in nature and degree to that of an adult? Wondering if Tara's response to the snake story had to do with what may have been the only coping mechanism she had? or if she did in fact possess the ability to be cruel as such - even before the fall into the river. the fall.? (think i'm now reading too much into this). Glad we're reading these stories.


message 20: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
I figured I take some heat for that word, "cruelty". Maybe Tara wasn't so much cruel to her grandmother. But she was cruel to Allison and we find out pretty manipulative in her adult life. She admits that she often milked sympathy from colleges by relating her memories and experiences with her mothers family. [SPOILER ALERT] The fact that she let everyone believe that Allison pushed her off the tree limb when in fact she jumped was pretty cruel. Especially given that Allison ends up in a mental institution and perhaps if Tara admitted the ruse she could have given her some comfort.


message 21: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Christine wrote: "Tara is certainly innocent in the beginning. I thought her fear of snakes was genuine and not any attempt to get back at or manipulate her grandmother. I might have been reading it wrong, but I did..."

Everything that Christine just said!


message 22: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
I think the story Harvest was very well crafted in the sense that Evans uses it to play against type and keep the reader a little off balance and guessing. Angel announces to her father that she is pregnant and instead of the usual paternal histrionics, he kindly and nonjudgementally gives her a bottle of molasses because it good for the baby. Instead of asking her clique for support, Angel goes to the outsider, Laura, whom the girls had just recently derided for her ability to harvest her egg for top dollar just because she was white. Somehow Angel had made the "motherhood" connection between this action of selling eggs and her own situation and sought and found a kindred spirit in Laura. I think that this story is more about drawing characters into sharp focus than storyline...the hippie mother, the Cuban boyfriend, the various girlfriend clique 'types'. Angel is not particullarly distraught or even bothered by her pregnancy and Rafael's voice if the loudest on the subject...

thoughts?


message 23: by Mistinguette (last edited Nov 11, 2010 07:46PM) (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments I know you've moved on, but I just got back after a long absence, and I have to say a few words about "Snakes".

- The title "Snakes" (as in snake-in-the-grass, serpent-of temptation) is part of what made that story rock. Snakes are made, not born.

- The title really opened up for me this story as an exploration of some archetypal female "snake" relationships: the Disapproving Mother, the Self-Absorbed Career Woman, the Competitive Companion, etc.

- I thought it fascinating that the narrator was used as an object of manipulation, as a tool in other people's drama, so often that it became her identity and her story about herself in the world. I think the author is pointing to some relationship between multiracial identity and this state of being the object of other people's stories, with her own agency hidden.


message 24: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Good to see you back, Mistinguettes! Good comments.


message 25: by jo (new)

jo | 1031 comments Mistinguettes wrote: "I thought it fascinating that the narrator was used as an object of manipulation, as a tool in other people's drama, so often that it became her identity and her story about herself in the world. I think the author is pointing to some relationship between multiracial identity and this state of being the object of other people's stories, with her own agency hidden."

i read Snakes last night but i don't remember thinking of tara as manipulating at any point. if i had a story like that, i would tell it and tell it again, too, and i wouldn't consider myself manipulative at all. painful stories (and this seems as painful as they come) need retelling. SPOILERS FROM NOW ON the real tragedy of Snakes, it seems to me, is that both of the girls are incredibly traumatized, and, until a certain point, they have each other, but then they are no longer enough for each other (because they are kids) and need their parents, but their parents are not there. tara's parents come back and clearly nurture her deeply. allison's parents, shockingly, simply get rid of her. when they find each other again, sadly, the girls fail to capitalize on shared trauma -- maybe because tara is over it and allison is clearly not.

remember when allison says to tara "you are my best friend" are tara says "no i am not" and then, as the narrator, she adds something to the effect that that had become true? i think this is one of those cases in which we should consider the hypothesis that tara is an unreliable narrator. she tells the story through the point of view of trauma. there is no reason why alison, who was her savior for weeks in the face of great opposition, should have stopped being considered a best friend. the only thing we know is that she eventually got tired of tara's phobia, but that's pretty understandable: they are 9!

as for the tree scene, the way she describes it the first time around is very different from the way she describes it the second time around, so we really do not know, i feel, what happened. we do not know if allison pushed her or not. what we know is how they feel about it: tara has constructed the memory to say that she jumped, allison has constructed the story to say that she pushed. this may say something about the racial dynamics depicted in the story -- the internalization of badness and guilt, and how these two qualities manifest themselves in the chosen (white) grandchild and in the rejected (black) grandchild.


message 26: by jo (new)

jo | 1031 comments sorry, i forgot to comment on mistinguettes's comment: right on!


message 27: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments About Harvest: another great title, about reaping what you sow.

Christine wrote: I didn't buy it that Angel didn't care much one way or another about what happened to her baby. I understand that a young woman dealing with an unexpected pregnancy may not know immediately what she's feeling and what she wants to do, but there's no way she's going to be as nonchalant as Angel was.

I worked in reproductive health clinics for many years, and young women really are this alienated from their bodies, their sexuality and their reproductive capacity.I think this story is strong where it shows us how alienated these two young women are from each other as women, and from their experience of potential motherhood. The two main characters settle for an old fashioned bonding around race, when there is the potential for them to be allies as women.

What is central to this story is not simply how white skin privilege affects Angel & Laura's respective places on the reproductive market; it is really about the effect of our market mentality about reproduction and contrasts it with our (equally wacky) idea that parenting marks the beginning of adult life.

Angel's decision does seem whimsical, but she is a remarkably immature person: she still wants to be a spy when she grows up, fer cryin' out loud! Getting pregnant doesn't make one develop earthshaking depth all of a sudden: it just makes you an immature mom. A mom who thinks her pregnancy and life as a mother can be subsidized with a single check, just as Laura thinks her experience of giving away her reproductive capacity can be exchanged for a check. In some ways, Laura is doing to Angel what others do to her: she is buying Angel's ability/choice to have a baby.

I thought the twist on race/class expectations about who society expects to get pregnant and drop out of college was interesting.


message 28: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
I think that the story, Someone ought to tell her there's nowhere to go, was one of the best. All the characters were fully drawn out and believable. I only had a couple minor quibbles with it...Georgie..would a recently returned Gulf war veteran really refer to himself as Georgie? Just sounds to my ear a bit effeminate in a way that Billy does not. And I kept wondering why Georgie didn't just tell Lanae what he had done to win the contest? Lanae seemed to be a reasonable person. Georgie only did the contest to please her daughter Esther and Lanae was good with having him regularly babysit. It seemed that if he had sat down with Lanae before the media got ahold of the story it could have worked out for the best. Kenny seemed a bit too laid back. Not too many men have no problem with their girlfriends ex-lovers hanging around to the extent that Georgie did.

I really felt sorry for Georgie...he seemed so heartbreakingly sad and deluded.

Thanks for the great comments about Snakes and Harvest, Christine, Mistinguettes, and Jo..fell free to keep discussing the other stories..I'm just trying to introduce the new ones so that all are covered my the end of the month.


message 29: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Wow its quite the echo chamber in here. Thought that a book of shorts stories like this would provoke lots of discussion...Themes like societies premature sexualization of young girls in "Someone..." and the obvious depression and post trauma stress suffered by Georgie..Lanae's heroic attempts to stem the tide and protect her daughter from a life modeled on her own.

In King of a Vast Empire Evans portrays an entire family haunted by its past. It's collective participation in an automobile accident effects each differently but seemingly Terrence the most. She states that love is simply hurting those close to you in order to later make them feel better. She takes a girlfriend that seems to believe the same thing. Comparing her leaving her to the caterpillars she threw off the balcony in her youth. When the sisters conspire to track down the credit card thief whom they imagine to be the surviving child in the car accident were they really just trying to find a way home again?


message 30: by Janet (new)

Janet | 225 comments was thinking it had been quiet, too - dunno about you all, but know it's busy days around here. loving the stories anyway

just finished this one last night - I "read" Terrence as a male character; and the story's complexities interest me. just too caught up in work and whatnot to comment very fully - but had been thinking I was grateful as always for the opportunity to read an author I might otherwise have missed.

the story itself is so raw in some ways, and yet calloused over, as the characters might be, having lived with pain and relived this car thing through all their days..

William's question about a way home again makes sense.

I'm reading this on a kindle and sort of miss being able to easily flip back and forth - but am looking forward to the remaining stories.


message 31: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
I thought that it was a pretty old saw and well worn staple, the distant father visited by tragedy who retires to his library to spend the rest of his day in drink and emotional isolation. For once maybe a male charater who rises above his pain and instead of descending into drink becomes a positive motivating force? The whole Carlos episode was both tangental and central to this families pain. Central in that he is the imagined survivor of the fatal car crash but is he really. Or is he a comical "good samaritan credit card thief who actually improves Terrence's credit scores? That Evans ended the story without resolving whether he was or was not the actual crash survivor made me then think that it was the family dynamics that were more important to her in the first place.


message 32: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Just to let everyone know, this book was chosen by "O Magazine" as one of the ten (5 fiction; 5 nonfiction) best books of 2010.


message 33: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Serena wrote: "I'm impatiently awaiting my copy from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library. If anyone in Charlotte is waiting as well it will get to you slowly but surely."

I missed requesting this book when it first came out (do not know how I missed it) as a big user of the Mecklenburg library system I understand how quickly the request list grows once more annoucement for the book. So, I missed out getting this as a library book in time for our discussion so purchased a Kindle copy.


message 34: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Christine wrote: "Hi everyone. I've been following the discussions for the last few months, but this is the first time I've been able to participate. I look forward to discussing this great group of stories.

Over..."


I am only beginning to read this collection of short stories.
I am not a big fan of the short story genre. But have just finished first two storys - Virgin and Snakes.
If you think that Virgin is one of the weakest stories in the collection - then this is a promising start to me.
What I did not like about Virgin is that it left too many unanswered questions for me.
I am liking Ms. Evans writing style and hope her next publication will be a novel.


message 35: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments About the quiet -- it may well be technological.

Something happened in the Goodreads "upgrade" that made it really difficult for me to log back onto this discussion board. I was gone for several months because of this. Goodreads still occasionally rejects my password several times in a row, then unpredictably accepts it - and it's not a typing error because the password is generated by a cookie, not my manual entry. I *still* don't get emails about new posts when I am following a thread. And the website no longer loads on my Droid at all anymore, so I can't chat with you all while I'm at the airport (which is 50% of my life). So, we have probably lost some folks who kept trying to be here, but couldn't get in.

Back later with a question about a story.


message 36: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
In the story Jellyfish, Evans examines two failed relationships. That one is gay and one straight seems largely immaterial (the problems in each almost identical), except for the fact that Eva navigates with ease between both. Both of the main characters, Eva and Cheese's partners have abandoned the relationship to assess their worth. Even though Eva has ended her relationship with Cheese she still is comfortable enough to drop in for a roof and benefits without strings. Eva's father is a well developed character in this story and even though he is distant, seems to play a very large role in her life. She comments that she visits only once a month but could on a good day walk the 30 blocks to visit him. Eva compares her father to a jellyfish whose tentacles reach out to embrace her no matter where he is. It seems to me that Evans is saying that through all the partner swapping and relationship building and destroying its family/parental love that reaches you wherever you are.


message 37: by jo (new)

jo | 1031 comments wait: torrence is a girl?!?

i think "Virgins" is a fabulous story. not the weakest in the collection by far.

i thought "Jellyfish" was about a chasm in communication. those two, much as they love each other, just can't click. did i read it wrong?


message 38: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
OK..I skimmed the story and the only thing that I picked up was that the parents were really disturbed that the "sisters" or brother and sister were spooning past the normal kids sleep together stage. I've known both male and female Terrence's so I assumed....In my quick skim...Jo you are so right...I'll read it again thinking Terrence male..Was I the only dufus making this assumption...Evens seems to me to play gender roles and preconceptions to task in her stories.

As far as Jellyfish..which two are you talking about Jo?


message 39: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I wholeheartedly agree with jo about Jellyfish - the father and daughter are neither connecting well nor able to break their relationships. The father's attempts to bring his daughter closer are all wrongheaded - cooking equipment, trying to have her move in with him far too late. I saw the tentacles reaching out, much as you see jellyfish floating in the water, but never able to make real contact.


message 40: by jo (last edited Nov 20, 2010 06:33AM) (new)

jo | 1031 comments bill, i meant the father and the daughter.

it's actually rather moving how he has it all figured out about her moving in. he is excited about this new house he finally bought because he was, i assume, too depressed or too stuck to move out of the broken-down too-small apartment that eventually collapsed on his head, and assumes, as we often do, that this new beginning for him is a new beginning for everyone in his life, too. but like mina says, time has in the meantime passed, and he has lost the kid he thought he had, and cannot see the kid he does now have.

i like that evans analyses this phenomenon, because i recognize it. you make a big change and it turns the world around so much for you that you see everything new, and assume everyone will see it new too, and it's just so exciting and wonderful. but then it all comes crashing down, because of course making a big change of this kind (a cosmetic change forced by circumstances) is not making a real change, and when people fail to play along (as they will), well, you realize nothing has changed for you too.

evans spares us the moment of the crash. she just shows the makings of it, the little manic phase of the father who is now liberated of the old apartment; his being late to see his breathing, living daughter because he has to go hunt down pictures of her she is not interested in. and then she shows us how children are often abandoned by parents who can't keep it together.

but there's no judgment, just the presentation of people adrift, and trying, and just simply failing.


message 41: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
I agree with your analysis and thoughts. I read this story last night and so far this is the one that I liked the least.
Maybe it is because I could not relate to any of the characters.


message 42: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
jo wrote: "wait: torrence is a girl?!?

i think "Virgins" is a fabulous story. not the weakest in the collection by far.

i thought "Jellyfish" was about a chasm in communication. those two, much as they lov..."


I too enjoyed Virgin - Thought this would be a wonderful story to read with young girls, as many discussion points.

The only thing that puzzled me about the story was the leaving behind the "friend" in the apartment, and then not finding out what happened to the friend.


message 43: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
William wrote: "Yes Snakes was a great read..and the poignant ending was off the charts..which I won't spoil right now for those still reading...my only quibble with it was...the Grandmom..if your daughter married..."

So far Snakes is the fav of the three stories I read so far. Many layers to this story and the ending had me saying wow. The author did a great job of reeling me in and then having the ending be a surprise. But, I guess that can happen as Tara was the narrator and this was from her pov.

I thought the part about the grandmother not knowing how to deal with Tara's hair as being realistic. There is no reason why the grandmother should know how to handle the hair. In fact, Tara makes the comment that her mother does not know how to do her hair. I can understand the grandmother being upser about the braids. But, the mother should have known how her mother would react to the braids, and better have prepared her daughter what she was going to encounter being with her grandmother.

In some ways, being innocent and naive helped Tara survive the comments by the grandmother's "friends".


message 44: by jo (new)

jo | 1031 comments Beverly wrote: "The only thing that puzzled me about the story was the leaving behind the "friend" in the apartment, and then not finding out what happened to the friend."

well, this is partly how evans writes -- she is not into neat conclusions, and also she's a lot about how life is not kind to bonds between people. in fact, i'd say this is a motif.

as for Snakes, it's a fantastic story. i feel the mother knew exactly what she was doing -- she was just too blind to the consequences this would have on her daughter and too taken with her own disappointment in her mother to do the right thing. someone said above that both girls were pawns in their parents' lives.

you know what i think? i think that tara had her blackness (and ultimately really caring parents) to shelter her. by her blackeness' sheltering her i mean, you know you have a reason why someone dislikes you. it's not you in your entirety as a human being. and you also know there are others like you who will like you very much. allison didn't have that. and she ended up badly fucked up.


message 45: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
In "Wherever you go there you are" Carla takes her 14 year old cousin, Chrissie, on a trip from Deleware to North Carolina to visit her old boyfriend whose recently become engaged to be married. This trip is compelled by the turn for the worse in the hospital of Chrissie grandfather, Carla's uncle. It to me was a sort of Thelma and Louise road trip. But Carla is certainly the damaged mentor, telling Chrissie, that even though she has never met her boyfriend that she knows he is an asshole because all 15 year old boys are assholes! Carla revisits her childhood trips with her mother to NC and reveals some of her scars along the way. Carla has recently broken up with her boyfriend Jay and her relationship and reasons for visiting Brian are "complicated" to say the least. One thing I've noticed in almost all of these stories by Evans is a sort of rootlessness of her main female characters. All seem to easily move between lovers past and present to one degree or another. Even Lanae who seemed the most domesticated still let her ex babysit and visit whenever until he commited a serious violation of her rules. I seem to get a picture of young adult Black women that don't really pay that much attention to the boundaries older generations had for "proper" relationships between the sexes and past, present and future partners.


message 46: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments I've been thinking about the various comments that some readers don't find the short story genre as compelling as the novel. I think short story is a difficult genre to master, much harder than the novel. It has to capture the same depth and complexity of a novel in about 1/10th of the space.

Which leads me to wonder: Do we dislike the way that these short stories quickly immerse us in someplace unfamiliar? Do we need to "relate" to the characters in order to hear their stories? Are we willing to take the risk, as readers, to take a brief journey with them into identities and experiences that are not our own?

I am also wondering about whether we have assumptions about what "black" writing looks like that is challenged by these punchy, spare stories. When I think of our discussion of the short stories in Junot Diaz' Drown, we weren't interested in judging the characters; we were interested in understanding them. Before You Suffocate clearly invites us into a generational experience, and a trans-racial identity, that is foreign to many of us as readers, yet our topics of discussion seem to focus on whether characters are "right" or "wrong" rather than how they are similar to, or different from, us as readers.


message 47: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
There are hardly any characters in all of her stories that I can personally identify with other than in rather superfleous ways. Even the fathers featured in a couple stories, though my age, seemed cast about and adrift in a way that I don't see myself. But because I don't identify with the characters doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the humanity and pathos that seems to permeate the stories and empathize with the situations. Since most of the stories feature young female bi-racial characters with strong feminist convictions, I feel strongly that it would be a mistake for me to judge the rightness or wrongness of their actions, having never walked a mile in their shoes.
Sidebar: to the discussants...would the actions of the females in the stories be considered "feminist". None are protesting or acting in an overtly political way. All seem to be making hard choices and sometimes initiating personal and sexual situations. Although I see young women unburdened by past sex role limitations I wouldn't think of this collection of stories as a feminist tract. Has just living a strong guilt-free life become the symbol of todays feminism?
I don't dislike the short-story genre at all...what I think makes this collection different than most is that Evans doesn't go for the neatly wrapped up happy ending in her stories that we see in most other collections.


message 48: by jo (last edited Nov 26, 2010 08:15AM) (new)

jo | 1031 comments i simply want to register a bit LIKE to mistinguette's post, no. 56. as for the whole issue of identification... as adrienne rich, a really cool poet, points out, we do not ponder issues of identification when it comes to reading shakespeare, even though it seems at least bizarre to think that we could easily identify with folks who lived five centuries ago (not to mention all the other stuff). the problem of identification rises when people deal with race and gender. i don't think it's more difficult to identify with people who are different from us gender- or race-wise. i think we have been conditioned to think it is more difficult. these girls, and boys -- they are people.


message 49: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
In Robert E. Lee is dead the setting is a familiar one to me. Set in Northern Va. across the Potomac river from DC. I had no idea when I came to the District from NJ in the early '70's that I was entering "the South". That confederate flags and memorials were as ubiquitous as the slogan "forget hell" was on the residents bumper stickers. Stonewall Jackson and robert e lee high schools were a fact of life for the newly integrated Black students and still to this day the names and recent history remain and inform their lives. Its against this backdrop that the last story in the collection unfolds. Its basically a buddy story, rather familiar, of Chrystal and Geena. Geena being the popular "bad" girl. Chrystal being so unpopular that her name at the start of the story is actually "Antisocial". All of this changes once she hooks up with Geena in a convenience store after school hours. She goes on to acquire a new moniker CeCe. After CeCe hatches a plot to implicate the rival school in a senior prank, she becomes along with Geena the popular girls, the designators of what and who is cool and hip. Geena when talking about the possibility of arrest utters the most memorable line of the book. "When white boys get caught doing this mischief its called a "senior prank", when we get caught doing it its called a felony". But the 2 girls are on very different tracks in life and CeCe heads to college while Geena skips class and guarantee's she won't get a diploma. But the girls have one last prank up their sleeves and that Evans ends the book with CeCe betraying her best friend after Geena gave so much in the way of power and prestige to her smarter and more privileged friend is reflective of the bittersweet and poignant nature of all the stories.


message 50: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1307 comments Mod
Thanks to all who contributed to this discussion. Although today is the last official day of discussion the link will remain open for any future thoughts and opinions. I'm sure that all readers anticipate the publication of Evans forthcoming novel.


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