The novel follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston sets up her characters and her locale in the first chapter, which, along with the last, acts as a framing device for the story of Janie's life.
Pages: 207 (paperback)
Rating: 10 out of 10
Source: taken from Partner's childhood home; my sister-in-law read this copy during high school.
This is one of the best novels I have read in a long time; I wish that I had read it sooner. However, it never appeared on the reading list of my classes and I never had picked up until I was looking for something good to read while visiting Buffalo. A lot of people have written wonderful, smart, insightful, and analytical reviews of this book in a way that I will not attempt.
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
In June 2009, I got married. In the year leading up to the wedding, I had a lot of questions and anxieties about what it would be like to not be single anymore. How would our marriage work? In addition to the event planning details, Partner and I had a lot of good heart to hearts. We made plans and promises. Even though it was fun, the year was filled with lots of "I wonder how...."
Since getting married, the answer I am finding over and over again is "this is how." We build it day by day, moment by moment. Good grief it is hard, challenging, frustrating, and scary, but oh my goodness I do not think that I have built anything more rewarding than our partnership. It is nothing like I imagined while at the same time being better than I could have hoped.
Instead of getting into a very academic or rigorous discussion of the book, I will just say that it felt like a love letter. Janie's growth from simply being a supporting character to coming into her own was inspiring. In her relationship with Jody, I appreciated all the questions that she asked about her role and the way she was being treated.
When she first meets Tea Cake, I complete related to her caution and suspicion of him. When it appears that he has left her, I almost started crying. As much as I was cynical and unsure of him, I wanted to be wrong. I wanted him to be the type of Partner with whom Janie could continue to blossom. As I read the story, I was so glad that Janie's love of Tea Cake brought her to life and helped her come into her own.
Even as they were facing the prospect of death, Janie is thankful to have had time with Tea Cake:
"Once upon uh time, Ah never 'spected nothin', Take Cake, but bein dead from the standin' still and tryin' to laugh. But you come 'long and made somethin' out of me. So Ah'm thankful fuh anything we've come through together."
I read that passage on the beach with Partner sitting next to me. I thought about how I would feel if we were facing death and I realized with a huge rush of warmth that I, too, would feel thankfulness for everything that we had shared.
The complications and insecurities that come with being in love were also touched upon in the book. The proper role of women is explored and challenged. The judgment of other members of the community is felt by Janie. In the midst of all that, she continued to grow, find her own voice, and try to build something wonderful with Tea Cake.
Finally, I loved that Janie acknowledges that love unfolds differently for each person. That a relationship does not have to look normal to the outside world in order to be right. In the last few pages, she shares this insight with her friend.
Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore.
I think my review may have turned into a praise of love. One of the many things I liked about the book was that it demonstrated that a loving relationship can help strong women grow. As odd as it feels to write this, I also felt more motivated and determined to continue working on my relationship with Partner.
I read this book for the following challenges: