February 15, 2012

If Mama Day knew (or cared) about blogs, she’d be giving me a look right now.

I am ashamed.

This is me typing with my eyes averted.

OK, that didn’t work nearly as well as I hoped it might. Apparently, I can type well enough without looking at the screen, maybe even better than usual. Sigh.

I am ashamed, though. I haven’t blogged since January 5. I have excuses, or rather, explanations, but I won’t make you read them.

I have been reading, though. I finished the book recommended by Anna Leah from my book club for the seventh round of my Year of Reading at Your MercyMama Day by Gloria Naylor—and that’s what I hope this post will eventually be about. I also finished the next book in the challenge and have started the one after that. I might blog about those at some point within the current decade.

Mama DayMama Day is one of those books, or rather, one of those characters who pulls you to her side; she’s the master, you’re the apprentice, and you’re in her world now, no matter where you meant to be going. It wasn’t that I couldn’t put the book down, just that when I did, I thought about the people and the settings like they were real, like one day I might get to play the fan girl and go meet Mama Day down on her island, sit in her trailer and dissolve some Honeydew between my teeth for the last time that summer. This novel is alive—you carry it in your gut, smell it, taste it, twine your toes in it, pluck a piece of lint from it’s shoulder. (It’s like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate in that way.) You can feel the characters breathing right beside you.

The story revolves around Mama Day and her family—those currently living and those who have been carried on the family’s back as ghostly ancestral memories. Mama Day is the matriarch of Willow Springs, an island claimed by no state, off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. Mama Day is also a witch doctor, and is therefore both sought after and feared by her fellow islanders. The island of Willow Springs is populated by the descendants of slaves who were owned by Mama Day’s ancestor. This ancestor married one of the slaves, a wild and spirited woman who eventually convinced him to set all the others free.  When the story takes up, Mama Day’s niece, Cocoa, has been living off the island in New York City for many years, but she eventuality finds her way back, with her city boy husband, George, who, as an orphan from birth, has never been so steeped in family and tradition. I think that George is the closest character to the reader, or at least to me. He’s the character that most expresses my experience of the island. He’s and outsider, the quintessential outsider, ripe for bewitching. I won’t say much else about the book, because you should just go read it if you’re tempted. Your experience will be different than mine. It’s that kind of book—a house that envelopes you, an island on which you could lose yourself before the sound of ocean dies away, a storm passing over. You have to feel it to know what I mean, to know how it feels to you.

I’ll say three more things about the book. One—While most of the story is set on the island, a large part of it takes place in New York City, with George and Cocoa. I’ve read or watched plenty of stories set in New York, but just as this book sinks me into the island, it also shines a new light on the city, which was as much a family to George as Cocoa’s family was to her growing up. Two—The islanders celebrate a tradition peculiar to them called Candle Walk, instead of doing Christmas. The tradition goes that on December 22, the whole island sets out with candles to go visiting their neighbors. Each person hands out homemade gifts, whether it be an afghan or a pie or just a sip of toddy from a thermos. (This way, those who can’t afford to make a lot of gifts can still save face.) People visit with each other for a while—in their houses or on the road where they pass—and then they move on to the next neighbor. I really want to do Candle Walk, but I’d probably get hit by a pickup trying to hand out gifts on Chapman Highway, especially if said gifts involved toddy from a thermos. Three—I loved this book, but I’ll just go ahead and warn you that it is has some very dark aspects and is sad. I have friends who don’t read sad, so I always like to give notice. It is also deeply artsy in parts. Some of it actually loses me, but I don’t mind this kind of thing. In fact, I sort of love being lost.

So to end I’ll just say I miss Mama Day. I think I’d like to write myself a letter from her and keep it in a drawer, at the ready for when I need some wit or a proper talking to. I’ll pass on the lightening magic, though. I hope I never need any of that.

I checked out Mama Day in hardback from the Knox County Public Library.

 

2 comments

I read Mama Day in college and loved it. I sort of went on a Gloria Naylor reading tear for a bit after that. I completely agree with you that Naylor really knows how to create a vivid setting and bring characters to life.

by Erin on February 16, 2012 at 8:54 am. #

So, I can count you in for Candle Walk on Chapman Highway?

by wendy on February 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm. #