A powerfully compelling novel of friendship, love and choices from the author of WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY ON AN ORDINARY DAY.
How do you follow up a debut that's a New York Times bestseller, an Oprah Book Club Selection that's still in the Amazon top 100 two years after publication If you're canny like Cleage, author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, you write a sequel, of course. Returning to Idlewild, Mich., the setting of her first book, Cleage takes up the story of Joyce, big sister to Ava, who was the focus of the original and who is absent from this one, traveling the country with her husband, Eddie. Fortysomething Joyce, a dedicated social worker, has always tended to be an optimist, despite her overwhelmingly tragic life. Her mother committed suicide on her wedding night, her two children died young and her beloved husband drowned five years ago. She's since taken to wearing black, but now she feels ready to wear red again, hence the title. The opportunity to do so comes in the form of Nate Anderson, a new student counselor in town who sees in Joyce the romantic woman who's still beneath the surface. Meanwhile, there's a lot going on at the Sewing Circus, the space Joyce uses for social work. Inspirational, idealistic and spiritual, the book is also sometimes judgmental, and a decidedly "women good, men bad" tone occasionally creeps in; some readers may find this unappealing. The bulk of the book is more about .problem solving specifically, Joyce's efforts at helping young African-American women become "free women" than it is about romance. (July) Forecast: As with many of the follow-ups penned by the Oprah-anointed, this effort will disappoint more than please the acolytes who made the first novel such a huge success, perhaps affecting Cleage's sales down the road. Major ad/promo; 7-city author tour; audio from Harper Audio. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 30, 2002
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Excerpt from I Wish I Had a Red Dress by Pearl Cleage
I wish I had a red dress. I've been wearing black for so long I feel like one of those ancient women in the foreign movies who are always sitting around, fingering their rosary beads and looking resigned while the hero rides to his death on behalf of the people, or for the sake of true love, which is really six of one, half dozen of the other, when you think about it.
I never cared much about clothes. My basic requirement is comfort, which automatically cuts out high-heeled shoes, pushup bras, panty hose and strapless evening gowns, but could theoretically still leave room for a range of colors, fabrics and even a stylish little something or other for special occasions.
The convenience of all black used to appeal to me. I loved the fact that I could reach into my closet and know everything I touched was going to match everything else I touched with absolutely no effort on my part, but it can be a little depressing sometimes. Even to me.
I didn't consciously start wearing black as a sign of mourning, even though at some subconscious level, I probably did. My husband, Mitch, died five years ago, which is when I really started noticing it, but he was just the last of a long line. My father passed when I was sixteen. My mother committed suicide on my wedding night a year later. My son got hit by a car walking home from school when he was six and my daughter didn't make it to her first birthday. I think she was the hardest one for me to deal with because I barely got to know her and she was gone.
It was just the opposite with Mitch. We'd been together since I was fifteen and we were so close I made the mistake of thinking we were the same person until he fell through that hole in the ice and drowned and I didn't die, even though for a long time I wished I had.
My baby sister, Ava, says it's hard to keep your body looking good when you know nobody's going to see you naked. She could have added that when you know your primary audience when clothed is preschoolers, some distracted teenage mothers, a few retirees and a government bureaucrat or two, it's equally difficult to get up much enthusiasm for earrings that dangle and skirts that swirl like you're standing in a little breeze even when you're not.
I'm a social worker. I used to be a teacher. Then one day I looked around and realized that what I was teaching and the way I was teaching it were completely irrelevant to my students' real lives. They were just ordinary kids from around here; young and wild and full of the most complicated human emotions and not nearly enough facility in any language to articulate those feelings to each other or to anyone else. But one day I saw them, really saw them, and everything changed.