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I WISH I HAD A RED DRESS by Pearl Cleage


by Pearl Cleage

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2001
ISBN: 0-380-97733-8
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

An Oprah Book Club author (also see Mitchard, below) returns with a relentlessly on-message companion novel to What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (1997), this one featuring Ava’s older sister Joyce, a strong woman who finally finds a man who’s good enough.

Now a 40-year-old widow, Joyce tells her own story, set in the same lakeside African-American town of Idlewild, Michigan. Her narrative is tiresomely politically correct, not only about gender issues (she teaches young black women to be themselves and fight sexism), but about food (she’s a vegetarian), exercise (she does Tai’chi), and race (the music and movies she likes are almost exclusively black). It begins with her failure to obtain state funding for the Sewing Circus, a social program Joyce created that tries to lend a hand to young women who leave school when they become pregnant. The Circus provides day care, instruction in new skills, and, just as importantly, advice on how to stand up to the young men who abuse, impregnate, and limit them. Joyce still misses husband Mitch and hasn’t found anyone to compare. While she struggles to find new funding for the Circus, she also has to deal with the Lattimores, a feckless family of petty criminals and seducers whose mother thinks they’re perfect. The Lattimore boys, especially Junior, aren’t happy that Joyce has encouraged Nikki, one of their women, to move out with her child. Meantime, Joyce realizes that she’s been wearing black for too long, and she begins to contemplate a change when friends introduce her to handsome Nate, the new high school counselor and a divorced former policeman. But before she’s ready to put on a red dress and begin living a little, Joyce must confront Junior, survive a violent attack, and negotiate her own set of gender issues with Nate.

More a bully pulpit than a novel.