The Future Has a Past

( 13 )


From the beloved author of Family and A Piece of Mine comes a dazzling new collection of stories featuring ordinary women who discover that love sometimes comes when you least expect it.

Vinnie is an overworked and self-sacrificing single mother who gets a second chance at love and independence, in "The Eagle Flies." In "A Shooting Star" a happily married mother of two laments the fate of her beautiful friend Lorene, whose naivete about desire has deadly consequences. In "A ...

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The Future Has a Past

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From the beloved author of Family and A Piece of Mine comes a dazzling new collection of stories featuring ordinary women who discover that love sometimes comes when you least expect it.

Vinnie is an overworked and self-sacrificing single mother who gets a second chance at love and independence, in "The Eagle Flies." In "A Shooting Star" a happily married mother of two laments the fate of her beautiful friend Lorene, whose naivete about desire has deadly consequences. In "A Filet of Soul," Luella's luck soon changes when her mother leaves her a modest inheritance, but not as soon as she initially imagines. And in "The Lost and Found," Irene confronts her womanizing boyfriend with the one piece of information that will bring him to his knees. Bursting with earthy wisdom and humor, these warmly engaging tales are a testament to Cooper's gifts as a storyteller.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonderful blend of spirited characters and energetic writing."

"It's the universality of her themes that has made Ms, Cooper's work popular."
--The Dallas Morning News

"[A]nother great work by a truly compassionate traditionalist. Cooper offers her readers great pleasure."
--Quarterly Black Review of Books

Black Issues Book Review
Readers rejoice! This gifted storyteller is back and her newest release is worth the wait. Cooper's latest collection of short stories delves into an emotional menagerie of human triumph and suffering. She addresses love, pain and betrayal with her signature lyrical style.
Patrick Henry Bass
J. California Cooper's latest collection, The Future Has a Past is a wonderful blend of spirited characters and energetic writing.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
African-American women struggling to make something of their smalltown lives inspire novelist and short story writer Cooper's (Homemade Love; A Piece of Mine) sixth collection of four down-home tales, told with wisdom and gentle humor. Navigating poverty, unwanted pregnancy, single motherhood and inexperience, all Cooper's heroines triumph, to lesser and greater degrees, finding "real love" despite being surrounded by "no good men." "Filet of Soul," a novella-length story, features Sedalia, a poor girl who can't afford to go to her high school prom. Enchanted when her crush leaves the party to dance with her on the school lawn, she responds to his overtures. The result is Sedalia's first and last sexual encounter, which leaves her pregnant and twice as poor as before. To protect her daughter from making the same mistake, Sedalia raises Luella to think she's unlovable and ugly. Not surprisingly, her efforts backfire. In "The Eagle Flies," single mother Vinnie works herself to the bone to care for her two ungrateful children, then enjoys the courtship of a man who encourages her to look out for herself; in "A Shooting Star," sensible Maisha meditates on the fate of her promiscuous friend, Lorene. Old-fashioned simplicity, common sense and colorful language make the potentially preachy aspects of these stories quaintly charming. Cooper occasionally forgets her vernacular and slips into more scholarly speech: one minute the narrators are saying "Humph, honey!" and calling each other "Sister-woman" and in the next they reference Dali and take "umbrage." Still, long comfortably established in the affections of her readers--and critically well regarded, too--Cooper continues to serve up stories as satisfying and heartwarming as homemade apple pie, and which should prove, with careful handling, just as popular. Author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cooper's talent for storytelling shines in her new collection of four stories about life in a small town. We have all met at least one of Cooper's characters: Lorene, whose sexual appetites lead to tragedy; Luella, who finds true love in the midst of loneliness and despair; Vinnie, forced to choose between her children and her man, who decides to live for herself; Mr. Summer, willing to wait years to claim the love of the mother of his sons; and many more endearing characters who love life, work hard, tend their gardens, and try to get by on what little money they have. Reading each piece is like listening to family stories at the kitchen table, full of gossip, commonsense wisdom, and universal truths. Cooper's down-to-earth style has won her a devoted following and many awards (e.g., the National Book Award in 1989 for Homemade Love), and this collection will be well received by her fans. Readers of Oprah's books will enjoy these stories as well; don't be surprised if it becomes a future selection. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sixth collection from Cooper (The Wake of the Wind, 1998, etc.), brimming over with all her usual upbeat insights, humor, and down-home takes on life and living: a mix that has just enough vinegar to avoid seeming too saccharine or facile. The four stories here all explore, some more effectively than others, the theme of the inescapable indivisibility of the past and the future in people's lives, futures that, Cooper notes, are built like houses,"a brick or plank a day." In the first and least successful piece,"A Shooting Star"—the tone is more preachy, the moral more pointed—a young woman, now married to her high school sweetheart and leading a virtuous life, tells how the free and easy ways with men of her beautiful and wayward friend Lorene, whom she's known and often envied since childhood, had gruesome repercussions. The"A Fillet of Soul" is a love story with a twist, as Luella, a lonely young woman abandoned by her ne'er do well suitor in a strange city without money, is advised to sell her favors in order to pay her debts—a fate she manages to escape when she at last finds true romance. Meanwhile, Vinnie, an overworked and financially struggling single mother in"The Eagle Flies" (the best story here), watches an eagle with a wounded wing fly regularly over her house, and somehow finds the courage to stand up to her grasping, selfish children and fall in love again. And in"The Lost and the Found," an old woman, Mrs. Everly, observing that the biggest fools are the ones who think they're having fun making fools of everyone else, recalls a young woman by the name of Irene who turned the tables on her lover Cool, a sweet-talker who hadnointentionof settling down—yet. Clear-eyed takes on women's lives that offer some redeeming balm. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385496810
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/16/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 257,436
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

J. California Cooper lives in northern California.
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Read an Excerpt

A Shooting Star
Now, you don't know me. And, I know that you know that nobody knows everything. But a person does have to go by whatever they do know and every new thing they can learn, to make any good sense out of life. They say love makes the world go round, and I believe that. But, it seems to me, and I already told you I don't know everything, that nowadays sex is making the world go round.
There's another sayin, "What goes round, comes round." Well, I know that sometime what went around comes back around a whole lot different and bigger and worser than what you sent round in the first place.
You got to watch life, cause it's moving all the time, every minute! You have to look all around yourself and see what's happening to you and everybody else. Try to get some understanding of it. But, I notice, some people look at things in their life and never do understand.
I grew up in a fair-size town that had a little of everything in it, I guess. In small communities you just know everybody cause you go to school with em and you usually know their parents cause you know their kids.
You know how growin children talk by the time they get to junior high school; half of the day is spent on gossip, some innocent and some not so innocent. That's when I started payin attention to Lorene. She was one of our classmates and a main subject to talk about.
Lorene's full name was Heleva Lorene Shaky. Her father named her "Heleva" (I don't know how he came up with that name) and her mother put in "Lorene" and that's what everyone called her, til they were mad at her or something; then they would say "Heleva!" like that, for awhile.
Lorene's mother is a real nice, smiling lady from this town and her father was from somewhere in Washington, D.C. Somehow they met somewhere and he traveled back and forth til they finally got married.
Lorene grew up in a nice house and they seemed to be a regular happy family like most other people round here, but what do I know? Her father, Mr. Shaky, was often gone, on business, back to Washington D.C., and her mother was alone a lot so she attended them teas and church socials and some women's clubs. Nice people.
I came to know them pretty well cause my family was kinda poor and sometimes when I didn't have lunch or lunch money Lorene would take me home with her and her mother would have a nice sandwich and a glass of milk for us. Mrs. Shaky, her mother, always was able to put love in everything she did for Lorene and, in her sandwiches and cookies, included me.
Lorene was a very kind and generous person. I mean, even kind to strangers and anybody. She would make friends with a person in a minute. Her mother was always telling her bout things like that; taking up with strangers, I mean. But Lorene would just smile that friendly smile of hers and keep on being herself.
Lorene wasn't a beautiful girl, but that smile of hers just made her so beautiful like. Just lighted up everything around her and she always seemed to be happy. She knew, at a early age, just how to fool with her hair and make up new styles for herself. Her mother didn't let her wear make-up or nothing, but Lorene didn't mind that either; she could just put that smile on her face and that was enough. She always dressed nice. Clean, too. She made good grades and didn't even have to study hard to do it.
I wasn't always real close to her as a friend because she had so many friends, but they was mostly boys. I always liked her though, but as you grow up you can grow away from some people and still like em.
Now, I don't want to say this, but I have to say it so you will understand Lorene. She was the kind of a girl who was so glad to have a vagina she didn't know what to do. She wanted them boys either to smell it, touch it, look at it, feel it, just anything as long as you did something to it. The boys said she would just be smiling, happy all the time. So . . . she was sorta the object of the gossip of us girls and the object of attention of the boys, a lot.
I can see her now; standing in the schoolyard in her white and brown saddle oxford shoes, a plaid pleated skirt and a white blouse. Smiling. With boys always somewhere near. She was wearing perfume round that time and puttin on a little light lipstick, too.
Well, I still liked her and sometimes I needed that sandwich at lunch cause my family was still doing poorly, but I couldn't stay close, close friends anymore because she was so . . . conspicuous. Anyway, my mama had heard of some of Lorene's doings and told me to just separate myself from her. My mama may have been poor, but she was very strict. And tired too. She and my daddy worked hard; I had four brothers and sisters. Their jobs didn't pay much.
Now, that made me kind of mad at the girls who were always dogging her and even telling their mamas about Lorene. (That's how my mama found out about Lorene and what she was doing with the boys.) Then I had to miss out on a good friend and a good meal when I was hungry . . . because of them! And who knew what these gossiping girls were doing behind trees and walls?
Lorene found another girlfriend though, Carla, who wasn't just like Lorene in her ways, but did let a boy or two go all the way. But not everybody! When we graduated junior high school Carla was at home having a baby. She came back to high school and left the baby at home with her mother or somebody. Anyway, Lorene and Carla had started having sex with boys when they were about twelve or thirteen, so I heard the boys told, cause the boys always tell.

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Table of Contents

A Shooting Star 1
A Filet of Soul 25
The Eagle Flies 137
The Lost and the Found 211
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Reading Group Guide

In her acclaimed novels and short stories, J. California Cooper portrays the lives of African Americans, bringing to light the impact of history, social and economic hardship, and enduring cultural strengths on the experiences of individuals and families. The questions, discussion topics, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of her works, which range across time and place but share the passion, humor, and wisdom that mark J. California Cooper as one of the most original and engaging storytellers of our time.

1. Most of Cooper's stories focus on the challenges that beset women living in desperate circumstances. How does she give these stories a universal resonance, making them appealing to a variety of readers?

2. The search for love is a common theme in the stories. In addition to the romantic relationships between men and women, what other forms of love does Cooper explore?

3. To what extent are Cooper's protagonists role models? Do you think that the stories are meant to convey certain moral or ethical values?

4. In what ways do the stories in The Future Has a Past differ from those in the earlier books? Do the problems--and the dreams--of the characters reflect changes in our society? Why or why not?

5. What do Cooper's novels share with other books, both fiction and nonfiction, that you have read about the Civil War period? Do her descriptions of the relationships between African Americans and whites before and immediately following the war differ from your previous impressions or beliefs? In what ways does Cooper challenge the traditional depiction of the boundaries between slave and master, black and white? Which characters or relationships do you find particularly surprising? Are the white characters as fully developed as the African Americans are?

6. Cooper touches on a wide range of social, economic, and political issues in her writing, including the historical divisions between races and classes; interracial relationships; the significance of complexion in society in general and within the African American community specifically; and the importance of education. What techniques does she use to incorporate these subjects without disrupting the flow of the stories? In what ways can fiction be more effective than nonfiction in revealing the forces that shape our world?

7. In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said, "Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." How do these traits mirror classic forms of storytelling, from myths and Biblical parables to the folk stories passed down through oral traditions? Why do you think Cooper may have chosen to use these timeless techniques to tell her stories?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2004

    Student of the world

    I bought the book, my first J. California Cooper, from my college bookstore on happenstance. It was the only one left. The way she tells a story isn't over flowing with cliche mumbo jumbo, it's straightforward, fiesty, and with rich time-appropriate dialect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2002

    I Bought It In Hardback

    J. California Cooper is such a wonderful writer. She gets to the heart of the matter. Reading her work--any of it--is such a supreme experience that she can't write fast enough for me. I bought this book in hardback--couldn't wait for the paperback--and I was not disappointed. Cooper reminds the reader about life and the fact that some things just...are. This woman is the truth. She never disappoints.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2001


    J. California Cooper is every woman's older sister who gives the best advice . In her own 'down to earth' language she personalizes her storytelling visit with you; Cooper is your best sister- friend, who reminds you that you can love yourself, overcome most of your problems, live again with a smile, and face adversities with HOPE, as long as you are true to yourself. I read everything she writes, and re-read it over, and over again whenever. I love her writings, and hope that she fosters a type of camaradrie between women and sisters of color.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2001

    Read only your books

    I really Love your book, I have read all of your books and I love them and you to ,IF I don't find any new books by you I will not buy any books until you come out with a new one. I love the way you tell a story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2001

    A Touching Book

    This book really touched my heart. J. California Cooper's writing style has a unique vitality to it. The characters in the book provide an array of truth, humor, and wisdom. The future really does have a past.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2001

    Another Wonderful Collection

    I'm a great fan of J. California Cooper and always eagerly anticipating her next book. As I suspected 'The Future Has a past' did not let me down. Each story was better than the next with an enlightening moral. I didn't want the book to end. Ms. California Cooper, thank you and keep them coming.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2001


    Copper...have done it again. I feel the love in this book. A new start in life to end the past.To touch the reader heart and soul. A new generation is yet to come. I cant wait to read your next novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2001


    J. California Cooper has done it again. Her writing always seem to move me in some psoitive way. I look forward to her new realeases. A must read book for all. Especially women.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2000

    A writer who heals and nourishes yet entertains.

    J.California has always written books to enlighten women. She encourages growth and self love. In this novel she explores the point of women putting everyone first except themselves, but they learn to nourish the soul with hard lessons.

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    Posted November 18, 2011

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