MAMA DAY by Gloria Naylor


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For her third novel, Naylor again creates a mythical black community, but this one--unlike inner-city Brewster Place or suburban Linden Hills--thrives by virtue of its intense isolation. A few miles off the shore of Georgia and South Carolina lies Willow Springs, a self-sustaining and self-regulating island, legally beholden to no state. This little pre-modern society exists on 49 square miles of myth and legends, most of which center on the Day family, a matriarchy descended from a white slaver and his shrewd slave woman. In the time of the novel--the early 1980's--the Days survive through Miranda ""Mama"" Day, an uncommonly resourceful old woman; her sister, Abigail, herself of gentler mein; and Abigail's granddaughter, Ophelia, the spunky young woman known on the island by her ""crib names,"" Cocoa and Baby Girl. Half of the novel is a lover's dialogue between the stubborn, mainland-educated girl and the man who becomes her husband, George Andrews, a whore's abandoned son, who grew up in a Harlem shelter, worked his way through Columbia, and became a partner in a burgeoning engineering business. The New York City courtship of super-straight George and salty Ophelia, played out with all the familiar psychologisms of our time, evolves into romance of cosmic proportions--something that becomes apparent only when, married four years, they both vacation on Willow Springs. Despite Naylor's gentle poke at modern cultural ethnographers, her island narrative--the third-person passages interspersed between the lovers' plaints--is a highly poeticized (and, of course, fictional) version of the anthropologist's art. Aside from learning the lore and legends, and the customs and crafts of the island, we also meet its often comic inhabitants, all of whom respect the supernatural forces that clash at the novel's end. The obvious parallels in Shakespeare, as well as in Charles Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman, help distract from the cheaper gothic touches of the final island scenes: premonitions fulfilled, moldy tomes, and lots of lightning. Naylor juxtaposes real and imagined cultures with a mostly even hand. At best then, a love lyric to the persistence of memory.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1987
ISBN: 1423359119
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin