Angelou is grappling with the dirty side of living in a broken world. While it is a heavier book than I generally read before sleeping, I found myself reaching for it each night to discover the next page, the next chapter, the next story. Her evocative similies kept me hungry for more. She uses them like seasoning, spreading them throughout the book just enough to keep them powerful.
"On the barbecue pit, chickens and spare ribs sputtered in their own fat and a sauce whose recipe was guarded in the family like a scandalous affair" (ch 20).
"Her face...had a thin sheet of sadness over it, as light but as permanent as the viewing gauze on a coffin" (ch 20).
For me, the book reads like a stack of photographs, each one uniquely dog-eared with food stains and fingerprints. Some have sun-faded lines across them where they once hung on a wall with others. It is so filled with sounds and sights and smells -- everything viewed through a haze of cooking smoke.
"He explained when we were smaller that when things were very bad his soul just crawled behind his heart, and curled up and went to sleep. [I] had to swear that when his soul was sleeping I would never try to wake it, for the shock might make it go to sleep forever. So I let him be" (ch 25).
Each chapter gives another angle on one life, slowly adding to the previous ones and yet having little in common but for being in chronological order. It’s the compiled scraps of a black woman’s childhood from little girl to shattered teen and, as a young Caucasian woman who grew up solidly middle class, it is a world that I know about yet have no experience living. Yet here in these pages I can try tp grapple with her, feel the salty honesty of her sweat, and endeavor to better understand.
Over and over again sentences grabbed hold of my shoulders demanding that I watch this life. That I care. That I carry it with me.