“There is no agony,” Hurston once wrote, “like bearing an untold story inside you.” Janie Crawford, forty-ish, with her “firm buttocks like she had grapefruits in her hip pockets,” her “pugnacious breasts,” and her imperial self-possession, has survived the most tempestuous years of her life, buried three husbands, and returned home to tell the story. Or at least to tell it to her best friend Pheoby, who Janie knows will relay it to the curious but envious town folk in the African-American enclave of Eatonville, in the Florida Everglades. (Hurston’s actual hometown.) Quite a tale it is, of three men in succession who married and hurt her in different ways. The last of them she outlived only because she outshot him. This is the great tale of black female survival in a world beset by bad weather and bad men. Her succulent book has its stretches of overripe prose, but that’s the price of taking the chances she takes with language, chances you have to take to arrive at the witchy places she gets to. (Sizing up her third husband, Tea Cake, she notices “his lashes curling sharply like drawn scimitars.”) It’s a short book, but you savor it. And after New Orleans, the climactic scene of hurricane and flood is more powerful than ever.
Next Things Fall Apart