The Barnes & Noble Review
When Gloria Naylor first burst onto the literary scene with her exploration of a small urban town, she grabbed the attention of readers and critics alike, propelling her toward literary stardom. The Women of Brewster Place, her landmark first work, was awarded the National Book Award for first fiction in 1983, and was made into a popular television miniseries starring and produced by Oprah Winfrey. The small enclave of women that Naylor introduced struck a resounding chord with readers everywhere, and now Brewster Place is back.
In The Men of Brewster Place, the other side of the story of the residents of this decaying urban housing project is told, with the same rich grace, humor, and compassion that Naylor brought to The Women of Brewster Place.
Some people you will meet when you read The Men of Brewster Place include:
Brother Jerome: His blues speaks for everyone on Brewster Place.
Basil: Instead of becoming the man his mother wanted him to be, his obsession with repaying his debt to her forces him to become a victim of his own devotion.
Eugene: He is torn between the pull of his family and the urge to re-create himself into a person even he does not understand.
C. C. Baker: He finds that his desire for power over people and places he cannot control renders him powerless.
Moreland T. Woods: After putting his own self-service before that of others, he finds himself mocked by his selfishness.
Abshu: Humor brings Abshu and Brewster Place a sweetness in the gathering dusk.
Ben: Frombeyondthe grave, he serves as the Greek chorus; he sees it all and comes as close as one can to understanding the men and women of Brewster Place.
Gloria Naylor has once again cast her passionate and knowing eye on a world she has made her own, a world of sadness and glory. Richly crafted and deeply satisfying, The Men of Brewster Place is certain to please readers of Naylor's previous works and attract new fans as well.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fifteen years after publishing The Women of Brewster Place, Naylor revisits that pocket of an unnamed modern city and animates it with a fresh, compelling cast. Brewster Place is populated almost exclusively by African Americans driven there by circumstance rather than by choice. Despite their various misfortunes, the residents are committed to each other and to the preservation of their community. Ben, a neighborhood janitor (and chorus) resurrected from the previous Brewster Place novel, narrates seven tales of neighborhood men and the women who love them. Their travails feature the familiar ills of the inner city, yet Naylor lends these archetypal situations complexity and depth: Basil yearns to be the kind of father he never had but chooses a path that leads to heartbreak; Eugene's restlessness in his marriage and friendship with a transsexual force him to face a difficult fact about himself; Reverend Moreland T. Woods rehearses his political aspirations with maneuvers on his church's board; and C.C. Baker, involved in local drug trafficking, keeps a startling truth from the police. Naylor neatly binds the stories' themes together with Ben's narration and a concluding corner-barbershop scene that offer readers a grace note of optimism that is as credible as it is moving. Author tour. (Apr.)
As narrated by Joe Morton, everyone has a story to tell on Brewster Place and Naylor eloquently gives voice to the people who live there. Fifteen years ago we heard the women of that byway (The Women of Brewster Place, Audio Reviews, LJ 5/1/94 and LJ 11/15/93); now we hear from the men. Brewster Place is not an address to which people aspire yet it is not quite an address for people of despair. Sure, they've seen better times in the past and just maybe they'll see better times in the future. Meanwhile, they're getting by from day to day. Morton brings each of the characters to life: Ben, the neighborhood janitor, who serves as the chorus; Brother Jerome, the musical genius with his child's mind; Basil, who wants a family so badly that he makes the wrong choices; Rev. Moreland T. Woods, who wants a new church to glorify himself; and the others who gather at the barber shop to comment on the general state of the world. This is great storytelling and a good choice for public library collections.Nann Blaine Hilyard, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL
In Gloria Naylor's 1982 collection of interlinked stories, "The Women of Brewster Place," husbands socked their wives, sons betrayed their mothers, fathers shook their daughters and grabbed them by the hair...."The Men of Brewster Place" offers them not so much a sequel as a second chance....Through the voices of Ben, Eugene and Basil, Naylor asks us to believe that men who have just acted rashly and selfishly can return shortly afterward to articulate their wrongs with gentle sadness. -- Roy Hoffman, New York Times Book Review
The New York Times
One is quickly beguiled...so gracefully does Miss Naylor fuse together the epic and the naturalistic, the magical and the real. -- The New York Times
In this elegantly constructed book, we hear the voices of men struggling to understand themselves and the women in their lives. Gloria Naylor gives us the other half of the story and so creates a fuller, more comprehensive vision...of the human heart. -- Julia Alvarez
The Men of Brewster Place is sort of like a clear, cool mountain stream; too cold to wade in; too swift to dare take a drink from; yet clear and inviting nonetheless: sort of like black men. -- Nikki Giovanni
The inevitable sequel to Naylor's unaccountably successful The Women of Brewster Place (1982) is comprised, like its predecessor, of a collection of linked portraits of the inhabitants of the urban housing project denoted by its title. A character who died in that earlier novel, Ben the janitor, is resurrected (as a blithe prefatory note explains) to share the narration with an omniscient lyrical overvoice that seems to be the "spirit" of Brewster Place. A prelude and postlude entitled "Dusk" and "Dawn" bracket eight vignettes, beginning with Ben's own story: Brought up in Tennessee by grandparents who were born slaves, he has suffered indignities representative of all the wrongs visited on black people throughout this century. "Brother Jerome" is a retarded youngster who's a blues pianist savant (a concept that Naylor leaves undeveloped); "Basil" is an ex-con who seeks to atone for his past by caring for an indifferent welfare mother's fatherless boys; "Abshu" (born Clifford Jackson) is a playwright and community activist whose life is given direction by his hatred for a greedy, politically ambitious ministerþso it goes. Here and there, Naylor contrives an interesting character or promising situation ("Moreland T. Woods," the story of that minister, an Adam Clayton Powell clone, is nicely plotted and effectively connected to "Abdshu"). But the majority of these stories feature ludicrous melodramatic climaxes ("Eugene," about a closeted homosexual husband and father, is a particularly glaring example), or vacuous clich‚s ("What does it mean to be a man?"; ". for the sons of Brewster Place, there would always be the blues"), or both. And Naylor ends it all with a gush of sappysentimentalism that would do Danielle Steel proud. Unimaginative, maudlin commercial fiction from one of the most overrated writers around. (First printing of 200,000; author tour)
Read an Excerpt
Brewster Place became especially fond of its colored daughters as they milled like determined spirits among its decay, trying to make it a home. Nutmeg arm leaned over windowsills, gnarled ebony legs carried groceries up double flights of steps, and saffron hands strung out wet laundry on backyard lines ...
My name is Ben. I'm a drunk. And been waiting a long time to say these next few words: This street gave birth to more than its girl children, ya know. And in all my years working as janitor on this block, I ain't seen no favoritism, one way or another, all had a hard way to go. I'm not about to argue was it harder for some than for others: Who's got it worse, the Him with nothing in his pockets, scared to turn the knob on the door; or the Her waiting on the other side to stretch that nothing--once again--for supper? When your shoes is worn down ragged and loose, what hits the ground hardest--the heel or the toe? Them are questions that ain't got no easy answer and I'm the first to admit I ain't got no fancy words. But I do know that when a She was leaning over them windowsills, calling for somebody to fetch a dollar's worth of cheese or a loaf of bread from the store, it was most likely a He who got up from the stoop or from a game of dominoes to rattle around in his pocket for the spare change to manage it. And I myself done helped many an old lady carry groceries up these rickety steps; young ones too if they was far gone pregnant or it was kinda late and I felt it just wasn't safe. Try as I might, it's hard to keep lightbulbs from getting bust up in these narrow hallways. Sometimes the younger kids'll take 'em out and smash 'em on the steps for devilment; or you'd get them older ones like C.C. Baker, hoping to work a much nastier business in the dark. You gotta watch out for the womenfolk.
Their perspiration mingled with the steam from boiling pots of smoked pork and greens, and it curled on the edges of the aroma of vinegar douches and Evening in Paris cologne that drifted through the street where they stood together--hands on hips, straight-backed, round-bellied, high-behind women who threw their heads back when they laughed and exposed strong teeth and dark gums. They cursed, badgered, worshipped, and shared their men.
But their men loved them too. And many hung in here on this street when the getting woulda been more than good because of them--and their children. There's a lot of sad things in this world; but a poor man having to keep looking into the eyes of a poor woman with no earthly reason why is one of the saddest things I know. And I saw it over and over here on Brewster Place. The Italians were the first. The street was full of 'em when I started back in the fifties. A sprinkling of Irish here and there. But they stayed mostly over in building 313 where Brother Jerome now sits playing that piano; and they were mostly old ladies who never much left their apartments except for a sunrise Mass. Memory is a funny thing: When I think about the folks changing on this block, it ain't a year that comes to mind. It's the sound of them high top shoes, with the metal hooks, stepping over dirty water flowing down the sewer drain. The swish, swish, of thick double petticoats under long black skirts. Not a face, not a face in sight; just them thick shoe heels meeting the wet cobblestone, and then just a peek of the back of their heads. White, white hair with a tiny bit of black lace pinned to the top. Living in the basement apartment, right next to the wall, what else would I see? And hiding out to take a sip or two, it being Sunday and all, what else would I hear? The thud of those old ladies' shoes; rounding my building to take the alley way--the quickest way--to the boulevard. And I don't know what year it all changed, but the high-tops became patent leather with T-straps, and it was thick black hair in braids or French knots with that same tiny bit of dark lace pinned to the top. Another kind of Mass. Another kind of footstep click, clicking to round my building taking the alley way to the boulevard. Angelina. Victoria. Maria Celeste. Calling to each other in the early afternoon with those names like music. Funny, with the Italians I can remember their men children, but not their men. The young bucks leaning against the wall, running their hands down their lean thighs to snag a thumb in the front pocket of them jeans, smoking and leaving cigarette butts stuck in the cracks of the mortar.
I'd appreciate if you wouldn't do that.
You talking to me, shit sweeper?
And I'd think to myself, Yeah, I'm sweeping up for you shits. But the older ones mostly left me alone. You see, thinking the things I really felt instead of saying them meant I was a nice colored man. And since the landlord was a post office box in another city, and their radiators leaked, or the sinks backed up, or arthritis kept them from sweeping down the front steps 'cause those teenagers sure weren't gonna do it, meant that even if I'd been an uppity colored man, nobody would much care. Three buildings on the east; three on the west; and the wall blocking light from the south. A dead end street. Full of shadows. It always feels like dusk on Brewster Place. And this job was a step up for me; I never denied that. But those young white boys had to deny, had to deny it was worth more than shit, 'cause they didn't even have that--and who could sleep through Brewster Place's long dark nights without hanging on to some kind of dream?
But the Italians finally did what the Irish did and what the Poles did before them--died off or faded away. Time left these buildings a little shabbier, the railings a little shakier, the sidewalks a bit more cracked and tar stained. The only things that didn't seem to change was me--and that brick wall. I was still drinking. It was still there. And this place was still a dead end street when "company came."
Brewster Place rejoiced in these multicolored "Afric" children of its old age. They worked as hard as the children of its youth, and were as passionate and different in their smells, foods, and codes from the rest of the town as the children of its middle years. They clung to the street with a desperate acceptance that whatever was here was better than the starving southern climates they had fled from. Brewster Place knew that unlike its other children, the few who would leave forever were to be the exception rather than the rule, since they came because they had no choice and would remain for the same reason.
Like me, some came from sharecropping in Tennessee; others Mississippi, South Carolina. And others from just somewhere else around the city, hopping like checkers on a board; when there's no moving up, you just move around. But a street is a street is a street. Give me a nickel for each time I've swept down these steps or raked garbage from the sewer and I'll give you every paycheck I made in return. A better bargain for me, believe it. A street is a street is a street. It's cement and sand and water mixed up to dry. It wears with time, gets dirt and tar ground into its surface; it cracks and finally needs to be patched. A street is a street is a street.
But let me tell you about men: If you put him on the likes of a Park Avenue and he feels he has no worth, then it's not Park Avenue. If you put him on the likes of a Chicago South Side and he feels he has worth, then it's not the South Side. We all live inside. That's the first thing I got to say. And the second thing is to tell the whole story. I don't know a man who would be anywhere without a woman. And don't know a woman who'd be anywhere without a man. It's how God did it; and we sure can't undo it. We can try; and probably pass off some pretty good imitations of life. But since it looks like we're here only once--and for a short time at that--why not go for the real deal? And here's what you're gonna always get from me: My name is Ben. I'm a drunk. And I've been working on this block close to forever. And if Brewster Place could talk, it wouldn't tell you nothing much different than what I've said: It's concrete and mortar, bricks and wood, iron railings and glass windows. And every black man, every mother's child, who found himself here hoped for better--every one. Not all of them prayed for better, 'cause some didn't believe in God. Not all of them worked for better, 'cause some of them were lazy as sin. Not all of them even really wanted better, 'cause it takes courage to live with change. But if there was a woman anywhere around him, he had to hope for better 'cause she was the other half; the other arm, the other eye--stepping right up on his shoulders to reach for a dream. And that's about as much poetry you'll ever get from the likes of me. I don't know fancy words, but I do know men. And the ones here, proud most of 'em, pitiful some--but hard working, all of 'em. If they was working at a job or just working at despair. And with each of 'em--no matter who he was--there was always a Her in his story.