Review 1737: #1976 Club! Meridian

Meridian is another choice for the 1976 Club. It is about the life of a Southern black woman who becomes an activist during the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.

Meridian is hard to describe as a novel. Although it covers the teen and adult years of its heroine, Meridian Hill, it does so in a patchy, nonlinear way, at first seeming to be a series of nonsequential short stories. Meridian grows up with an uninvolved mother, who says things she doesn’t understand, like “Be nice,” as a code for her behavior with boys. So, it’s not surprising that she becomes pregnant at a young age and has to drop out of high school to get married.

However, the bulk of the story is about relationships formed after her marriage is over and she gives up her son so that she can accept a scholarship to a black girls’ college in Atlanta. She meets and falls for Truman Held, who encourages her to become more involved in the Civil Rights movement, demonstrating and signing up black adults to vote.

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It is Meridian’s complex relationship with Truman and his white activitist wife from the North, Lynne, that is the focus of much of the novel. Truman and Lynne are involved in a black/white love/hate relationship that is familiar to me from reading other black authors of the time. At first, the Civil Rights movement is composed of a mixture of black and white activists. Then some of the groups shut out the white activists and then the women, so that only the black men have a voice. Meridian continues to adopt any cause she can find, but as Lynne is shut out, her relationship with Truman sours, as it does over his frequent infidelities.

Walker’s prose is lovely, although she seems detached from her characters. Meridian herself seems to have to remove herself from personal relationships before she can serve humanity. I had mixed feelings about this novel and wasn’t sure I understood everything.

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Boy, Snow, Bird

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Day 546: Boy, Snow, Bird

Cover to Boy, Snow, BirdI find it fascinating when someone takes a well-known story and puts a wildly creative spin on it. Such is the case with Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi’s re-imagining of the story of Snow White.

The story begins in the 1950’s with Boy Novak. Boy flees to a small town in New England to escape her verbally and physically abusive father. Although Boy is a strikingly beautiful icy blonde, she has no sense of herself, so much so that when she looks in a mirror, she sometimes cannot see herself.

Boy meets Arturo Whitman, a widower with a little girl named Snow. Although Boy believes she loves someone else, she marries Arturo. It is not until she has her own dark-skinned daughter, whom she names Bird at Snow’s suggestion, that she learns she has married into an African-American family passing for white.

Boy is appalled to learn that Arturo has a sister, Clara, whom she has never met. Arturo’s mother Olivia sent Clara away as a child because her features were too African-American.

Boy is also worried about Snow, a beauty who has always been fawned over by her family for her pale skin. Boy sees something hidden in Snow and begins to fear for Bird. Finally, she has Arturo send Snow away to live with Clara.

Bird takes up the story at the age of fourteen. She shares her mother’s problems with mirrors. She is a bright, lively girl who is intensely curious about her sister Snow. Soon she begins a correspondence with Snow. When Boy, Snow, and Bird are finally reunited and other secrets emerge, they are forced to explore the differences between appearance and reality.

The setting of this novel during the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement adds dimension to this truly original novel. It is also beautifully written. I felt it slowed down a little in the section where Snow and Bird are corresponding, but it was otherwise absorbing. Although the novel has a realistic setting, it harks back to its fairy tale beginning through dreams, a few hallucinatory moments, and the symbolism of the mirror.