TRAINING SCHOOL FOR NEGRO GIRLS by Camille Acker

TRAINING SCHOOL FOR NEGRO GIRLS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In her debut collection, Acker pays tribute to Washington, D.C.—the Chocolate City—and the changes it went through during the last years of the 20th century.

The 11 stories, each centered on the life of a black woman, depict D.C. life beyond the monuments and government antics outsiders normally associate with the city. In fact, the tourist D.C. is barely background scenery in Acker’s milieu, which manages to go more local without alienating readers who are unfamiliar with life inside the Beltway. For instance, in "Mambo Sauce," a sample of that local condiment becomes the catalyst for Constance, who's just moved to D.C. from Brooklyn, to try to stave off gentrification in her new neighborhood—and the reason she begins to reconsider her interracial relationship. And in "Strong Men," a high school graduation becomes the occasion for a D.C. crab bake. Acker is strongest when she's excavating the interiority of her characters. This is especially true in “Cicada,” which chronicles a young girl’s experience as she participates in her first piano competition, and “Now, This,” in which Acker astutely describes the inner thoughts of Rae, a premenopausal woman who has to care for her ailing mother while coming to terms with the reality of her own aging body. Yet the collection is uneven. Sometimes the ancillary figures are more interesting than the main characters; in "Strong Men," the protagonist is 13-year-old Bit, but her older brother, Ronnie, whose alleged drug dealing, obsession with local basketball legend Len Bias, and desire to see the world puts him at odds with their father and jeopardizes his enrollment at Howard University, is quite a bit more interesting than Bit, who has trouble with boys and best friends. Acker’s exploration of the inner workings of Washington’s black middle class in the title story comes off as heavy-handed, resulting in exaggerated characters that might have been better suited for satire. Nonetheless, the collection ends on a tender and memorable note in "You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You," as a father and daughter cruise the city to the accompaniment of the music of its native son Marvin Gaye.

Acker shows that the lives of black girls and women are vast and varied, pushing back on the monolithic ways they are often portrayed while giving readers everything but go-go music in a generally lovely ode to D.C. life.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-936932-37-5
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Feminist Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2018




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