Using the accretion method that has become her trademark, Walker (By the Light of My Father’s Smile, 1998, etc.) here offers a many-voiced, often lyrical story—but in discrete, oddly shaped lumps—of her first marriage and subsequent awakenings over the course of a lifetime of relationships.
The first section, “To My Young Husband,” is the most vivid and moving, as a woman, Tatala, looks back on her marriage 20 years after it ended, from the vantage point of a therapist’s office in Manhattan where she sits with her ex and their daughter, now grown, who has brought them there to figure out what went wrong. The images of the relationship—a man, white, lawyer, Jewish, and a woman, black, poet, married and living in Mississippi in the ’60s, just trying to have a normal life together with their child—are poignant, as are the sadness and Tatala’s pain that they should have drifted apart. From there the focus keeps shifting: to another woman reflecting on how her family views her as an autobiographical writer, to frank portrayals of other women and the men they love, in spite of the yearnings they have to move on, to a man coping badly with his lover’s absence, letting doubt gnaw its way into his heart, and to two sisters looking for the ruin of their uncle’s house, a walk taking them back to childhood and a better understanding of who they are now. Finally, the male lovers are replaced by women, and the voices continue to explain the joys of being together, and the hardship of being judged unfairly, until a final voice, the author’s own, offers a healing hand and her art to bridge the gap of understanding between herself and the husband of her youth.
Many voices are heard here, and whether they preach or praise, coo or condemn, they all come from one heart.