The basics: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day is the story of Ava, an HIV-positive black woman who sold her hair salon in Atlanta to get a somewhat fresh start in San Francisco, away from the string of men she's slept with. She decides to spend the summer with her sister Joyce in Idlewild, Michigan.
My thoughts: Although I read What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day almost fifteen years ago, I still remember the last line of the novel. It's my favorite last line of a novel. Despite its lingering memory, I realized I remembered little else about the novel. It was magical to read one of my favorite novels again, seemingly for the first time.
Initially, I was struck both by how brilliant Pearl Cleage is and how timeless this novel is. If I didn't know it was written fifteen years ago, I wouldn't have a clue:
"It almost doesn't matter what black community you go in now the problems are exactly the same. The kids are angry. The men are shell-shocked. The women are alone and the drugs are everywhere."This novel tackles big issues and its focus is on the African-American community in particular. When Ava arrives in Idlewild, she's surprised to hear there's a crack epidemic: "I shouldn't have been surprised. Crack is an epidemic with a life all its own, just like AIDS. Small-town living doesn't save you anymore."
Ava and Joyce are an intriguing pair of sisters. Joyce, who has lost her husband and two children, maintains a realistic optimism about saving people:
"Joyce is good at this kind of stuff. She went into social work in the first place because she really believes that people want to take care of themselves and their children, and if they're allowed to do that with some dignity, everything else will fall into place."Ava, meanwhile, has a more cynical edge. She's impressed her sister can maintain positivity and optimism to try to effect real change, but she struggles with a desire for vengeance too.
There is an underlying tragedy in this novel that haunts me. The world needs more people like Joyce. The world needs more novels and films to address the issues of our contemporary life. Still, there's hope and, more impressively, joy. Pearl Cleage celebrates life, love and goodness, but she doesn't shy away from the tragic realities of AIDS, crack and violence.
Favorite passage: "Most of the people up here think it's still 1958 and we're dealing with some high-spirited youngsters who are just sowing their wild oats. They can't see that this is something new. This isn't a phase they're going through. This is how they are. They don't know anything. They're selfish and mean and mad all the time."
The verdict: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day shows no signs of age. It's as relevant than when it was first published. It's a brilliant novel and an astonishing debut novel. Whether on stage or page, Pearl Cleage is a master storyteller, and I'm continuously astonished she's not better known, more often read, and heralded as one of the great literary talents. This novel is a contemporary American masterpiece.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: December 1, 1997
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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