I have to admit that I was nervous about picking up this book. It’s not because I don’t love Southgate’s work. The Fall of Rome is outstanding and one I hope to teach one day. The Taste of Salt is artful. It was the mention, on the back, of the protagonist’s effort to find her way and her fame in the era of blaxploitation films in LA. “This book,” I thought, “may not be for me.” Still, out of loyalty to Southgate, I bought a copy.
Then came Michael Chabon’s voyeuristic and superficial treatment of the blaxploitation film scene in Telegraph Avenue. I figured that I had to try this one, if only to get the bad taste of that part of that book out of my mouth. To what extent did it matter to me that Chabon is a white male who gave me a lousy answer to my question about what it was like to try to write black characters and that Southgate is an African-American woman?
The first five chapters go by in a flurry. They read like a montage, a whirlwind, appropriate both for the impressions of a young woman from Tulsa moving to LA and book that is so much about films. And then Southgate finds another gear and another voice – again, an appropriate shift considering what’s happening to / with the characters.
I never stopped being amazed at how layered and seamlessly structured this book is. Southgate takes us back and forward in time – from LA to New York to Tulsa, to the early 1920’s and to present day. There is much to be learned and admired about the stories of the three generations here, the stories of three generations of women, the stories of three generations of African-American women. “There is,” as Southgate writes, “something there that can’t be denied” (268). And there is something there that even I could understand. At the very least, I read the last 30 or so pages through tears – the tears of a child, a parent, but no longer a grandchild.
I also like that the book left me curious about history. Why did I know nothing of the Tulsa race riot (http://www.tulsagal.net/p/1921-tulsa-race-riot-in-pictures.html)?
Now I just have to find a copy of Another Way to Dance.