What Looks like Crazy on an Ordinary Day

What Looks like Crazy on an Ordinary Day

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by Pearl Cleage, Tracey Leigh
     
 

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Acclaimed Playwright, essayist and columnist Pearl Cleage breaks new ground in African American women's literature—with a debut novel that sings and crackles with life-affirming energy as it moves the reader to laughter and tears.

As a girl growing up in Idlewild, Michigan, Ava Johnson had always heard that, if you were young, black, and had any sense at

Overview

Acclaimed Playwright, essayist and columnist Pearl Cleage breaks new ground in African American women's literature—with a debut novel that sings and crackles with life-affirming energy as it moves the reader to laughter and tears.

As a girl growing up in Idlewild, Michigan, Ava Johnson had always heard that, if you were young, black, and had any sense at all, Atlanta was the place to be. So as soon as she was old enough and able enough, that was where she went—parlaying her smarts and her ambition into one of the hottest hair salons in town. In no time, she was moving with the brothers and sisters who had beautiful clothes, big cars, bigger dreams, and money in the bank.

Now, after more than a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living, Ava has come home, her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits on one dark truth. Ava Johnson has tested positive for HIV. And she's back in little Idlewild to spend a quiet summer with her widowed sister, Joyce, before moving on to finish her life in San Francisco, the most HIV-friendly place she can imagine.

But what she thinks is the end is only the beginning because there's too much going down in her hometown for Ava to ignore. There's the Sewing Circus—sister Joyce's determined effort to educate Idlewild's young black women about sex, drugs, pregnancy, whatever. . .despite the interference of the good Reverend Anderson and his most virtuous, "Just say no" wife. Plus Joyce needs a helping hand to make a loving home for Imani, an abandoned crack baby whom she's taken into her heart.

And then there's Wild Eddie, whose legendary background in violence combined with his Eastern gentility has stirred Ava's interest.. .and something more.

In the ten-plus years since Ava left, all the problems of the big city—drugs, crime, disease have come home to roost in the sleepy North Michigan community whose ordinariness once drove her away. Now she cannot turn her back on friends and family who sorely need her in the face of impending trouble and tragedy. Things are getting very interesting in Idlewild these days. Besides which, the unthinkable thing has started happening: Ava Johnson is failing in love.

A remarkable novel sizzling with sensuality, rollicking with wild humor, and humming with gritty truth, in What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. . .Pearl Cleage has created a world rich in character, human drama, and deep, compassionate understanding.As a girl growing up in Idlewild, Michigan, Ava Johnson had always heard that, if you were young, black, and had any sense at all, Atlanta was the place to be. So as soon as she was old enough and able enough, that was where she went—parlaying her smarts and her ambition into one of the hottest hair salons in town. In no time, she was moving with the brothers and sisters who had beautiful clothes, big cars, bigger dreams, and money in the bank.

Now, after more than a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living, Ava has come home, her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits on one dark truth. Ava Johnson has tested positive for HIV. And she's back in little Idlewild to spend a quiet summer with her widowed sister, Joyce, before moving on to finish her life in San Francisco, the most HIV-friendly place she can imagine.

And then there's Wild Eddie, whose legendary back ground in violence combined with his Eastern gentility has stirred Ava's interest...and something more.

In the ten-plus years since Ava left all the problems of the big city—drugs, crime, disease—have come home to roost in the sleepy North Michigan community whose ordinariness once drove her away. Now she cannot turn her back on friends and family who sorely need her in the face of impending trouble and tragedy. Things are getting very interesting in Idlewild these days. Besides which, the unthinkable thing has started happening: Ava Johnson is falling in love.

Author Biography:

Pearl Cleage is the author of Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth and Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot. An accomplished Playwright, she teaches playwriting at Spelman College, is a cofounder of the literary magazine Catalyst and writes a column for the Atlanta Tribune. Ms. Cleage lives in Atlanta with her husband. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. . . is her first novel.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
It takes talent to make a love story between an AIDS victim and a convicted murderer work, but playwright/essayist Cleage (Deals with the Devil) more than meets the challenge in this gutsy, very likable fiction debut.

As a teenager, Ava Johnson couldn't wait to move away from tiny Idlewild, Michigan, a lakefront village originally conceived—and enjoyed for decades—as a resort town for people of color. Now just a half-abandoned dot on the map like any other (except that still, most of its residents are black), Idlewild offers the only safe haven when Ava, now nearly 30, learns she's contracted the HIV virus and is forced to close down her hair salon in Atlanta. Telling herself she's just visiting her older sister, Joyce, for a few weeks before she moves on to San Francisco, sophisticated Ava (whose voice is always feisty and humorous, even when the subject is death) is nevertheless impressed by bighearted Joyce's efforts to help the teenaged girls in her small community. She's also intrigued by handsome, sexily 'together' Eddie Jefferson, a once-wild childhood acquaintance who's returned to Idlewild to raise vegetables, grow dreadlocks, and practice t'ai chi. While giving support to Joyce as she fights her conservative church for the right to teach parenting to adolescents, and assisting (a bit skeptically) when Joyce takes in an addict's abandoned baby, Ava finds herself falling hard for sensitive, nurturing Eddie. Obviously, he's interested, too—but won't he run once he learns she's carrying the virus? Ava hardly dares hope for a final chance at love, even when Eddie reveals his own terrible—and, finally, forgivable—past. Lively, topical, and fantasy-filled. Watch out, Terry McMillan. Cleage is on your tail.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780792798873
Publisher:
Sound Library
Publication date:
04/28/2002
Edition description:
Unabridged
Pages:
58
Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I'm sitting at the bar in the airport, minding my own business, trying to get psyched up for my flight, and I made the mistake of listening to one of those TV talk shows. They were interviewing some women with what the host kept calling full blown AIDS. As opposed to half-blown AIDS, I guess. There they were, weeping and wailing and wringing their hands, wearing their prissy little Laura Ashley dresses and telling their edited-for-TV life stories.

The audience was eating it up, but it got on my last nerve. The thing is, half these women are lying. More than half. They get diagnosed and all of a sudden they're Mother Teresa. I can't be positive! It's impossible! I_m practically a Virgin! Bull.... They got it just like I got it f...... men.

That's not male bashing either. That's the truth. Most of us got it from the boys. Which is, when you think about it, a pretty good argument for cutting men loose, but if I could work up a strong physical reaction to women, I would already be having sex with them. I'm not knocking it. I'm just saying I can't be a witness. Too many breasts in one place to suit me.

I try to tune out the almost-a-virgins, but they're going on and on and now one is really sobbing and all of a sudden I get it. They're just going through the purification ritual. This is how it goes: First, you have to confess that you did nasty, disgusting sex stuff with multiple partners who may even have been of your same gender. Or you have to confess that you like to shoot illegal drugs into your veins and sometimes you use other people's works when you want to get high and you came unprepared. Then you have to describe the sin you haveconfessed in as much detail as you can remember. Names, dates, places, faces. Specific sexual acts. Quantity and quality of orgasms. What kind of dope you shot. What park you bought it in. All the down and dirty. Then, once your listeners have been totally freaked out by what you've told them, they get to decide how much sympathy, attention help, money, and understanding you're entitled to based on how disgusted they are.

I'm not buying into that. I don't think anything I did was bad enough for me to earn this as the payback, but it gets rough out here sometimes. If you're not a little kid, or a heterosexual movie star's doomed but devoted wife, or a hemophiliac who got it from a tainted transfusion, or a straight white woman who can prove she's a virgin with a dirty dentist, you're not eligible for any no-strings sympathy.

The truth is, people are usually relieved. It always makes them feel better when they know the specifics of your story. You can see their faces brighten up when your path is one they haven't traveled. That's why people keep asking me if I know who I got it from. Like all they'd have to do to ensure their safety is cross this specific guy's name off their list of acceptable sexual partners the same way you do when somebody starts smoking crack no future here. But I always tell them the truth I have no idea. That's when they frown and give me one last chance to redeem myself. If I don't know who, do I at least know how many?

By that time I can't decide if I'm supposed to be sorry about having had a lot of sex or sorry I got sick from it. And what difference does it make at this point anyway? It's like lying about how much you loved the rush of the nicotine just because now you have lung cancer.

I'm babbling. I must be higher than I thought. Good. I hate to fly. I used to dread it so much I'd have to be falling down drunk to get on a plane. For years I started every vacation with a hangover. That's actually how I started drinking vodka, trying to get up the nerve to go to Jamaica for a reggae festival. Worked like a charm, too, and worth a little headache the first day out and the first day back.

I know I drink too much, but I'm trying to cut back. When I first got diagnosed, I stayed drunk for about three months until I realized it was going to be a lot harder to drink myself to death then it might be to wait it out and see what happens. Some people live a long time with HIV. Maybe I'll be one of those, grinning like a maniac on the front of Parade magazine, talking about how I did it.

I never used to read those survivor testimonials, but now I do, for obvious reasons. The first thing they all say they had to do was learn how to calm down, which is exactly why I was drinking so much, trying to cool out. The problem was, after a while I couldn't tell if it was the vodka or the HIV making me sick, and I wanted to know the difference.

But I figure a little lightweight backsliding at thirty thousand feet doesn't really count, so by the time we boarded, I had polished of two doubles and was waiting for the flight attendant to smile that first-class-only smile and bring me two more. That's why I pay all that extra money to sit up here, so they'll bring me what I want before I have to ring the bell and ask for it.

The man sitting next to me is wearing a beautiful suit that cost him a couple of grand easy and he's spread out calculators, calendars, and legal pads across his tray table like the plane is now his personal office in the air. I think all that is for show. I don't believe anybody can really concentrate on business when they're hurtling through the air at six hundred miles an hour. Besides, ain't nobody that damn busy.

He was surprised as hell when I sat down next to him White men in expensive suits are always a little pissed to find themselves seated next to me in first class, especially since I started wearing my hair so short. They seem to take it as some kind of personal affront that of all the seats on the airplane, the bald headed black woman showed up next to them. It used to make me uncomfortable. Now I think of it as helping them take a small step toward higher consciousness. Discomfort is always a necessary part of the process of enlightenment.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't grip and pray during takeoff. It wasn't that I was drunk. I've been a lot drunker on a lot of other airplanes. It's just that at this point, a plane crash might be just what the doctor ordered.

Copyright ) 1997 by Pearl Cleage

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day. Copyright © by Pearl Cleage. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Pearl Cleage is the author of Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth and Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot. An accomplished Playwright, she teaches playwriting at Spelman College, is a cofounder of the literary magazine Catalyst and writes a column for the Atlanta Tribune. Ms. Cleage lives in Atlanta with her husband. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day...is her first novel.

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What Looks like Crazy on an Ordinary Day 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 94 reviews.
Aristian1908 More than 1 year ago
At first I was not attached to the story. The first few pages give the illusion that it will be fiesty and wild. But then it settles down considersbly. The story then becomes predictable...or so I thought. The slow movement is just enough time to set a great build up. The story then gives a great twist and turn that fits perfectly into the storyline! Not a surprise ending but definitely some good twists and turns. A bit romantic in nature but deals with real life issues as well.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a blind reading for me. I had no knowledge or history of this book. I purchased it on a whim and was surprisingly very satisfied! The characters were engaging and the story was well written. After I got over the initial shock of what the main character, Ava Johnson was faced with, regarding her mortality at such a young age, I was pulled in and hooked until the very end. 
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Life challeges
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Much left unsaid and perfectly written in this book
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I read this book when it was first released (not long after it became an Oprah's Book Club selection). I've reread it a couple of times since then, and each time is just as enjoyable as the first. I love this book. The characters are well-developed, and it will make you laugh out loud, as well as feel like shedding a tear or two. I definitely recommend this book. (I've also read a couple of her other works, and while good, none compare to this debut novel.)
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From the first to last page I was moved by the main character's struggles and desire to fight. This book was an emotional journey, in a good way. It proves that all happy endings are not the American dream but can still be just as happy.
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