... [a] fierce, loving group portrait ... Despite Gloria Naylor's shrewd and lyrical portrayal of many of the realities of black life (her scene of services in the Canaan Baptist Church is brilliant), 'The Women of Brewster Place' isn't realistic fiction - it is mythic. Nothing supernatural happens in it, yet its vivid, earthy characters (especially Mattie) seem constantly on the verge of breaking out into magical powers ... Naylor bravely risks sentimentality and melodrama to write her compassion and outrage large, and she pulls it off triumphantly.
... radiant ... In language as intricately whorled as mahogany, Naylor sculpts profiles of seven women ... no pallid tale of attenuated perception recollected over cappuccino; Naylor is not afraid to grapple with life's big subjects: sex, birth, love, death, grief. Her women feel deeply, and she unflinchingly transcribes their emotions ... Naylor's talent glows like beaten copper as she captures the powerful affection, enriched by laughter, between the two women. Like Toni Morrison's Sula,The Women of Brewster Place explores what women feel about each other as friends, as mothers, as daughters and, in one of the stories, The Two, as lovers ... Naylor's potency wells up from her language. With prose as rich as poetry, a passage will suddenly take off and sing like a spiritual ... Vibrating with undisguised emotion, The Women of Brewster Place springs from the same roots that produced the blues. Like them, her book sings of sorrows proudly borne by black women in America.
I'd never read Naylor's debut and reprints like this one give readers like me that extra nudge to find out whether we've been missing something ... This form can be heavy on melodrama and Naylor doesn't always dodge that pothole. But it's her ardent inventiveness as a storyteller and the complex individuality she gives to each of her seven main characters that make the novel so much more than a contrived literary assembly line ... As a collective narrative, Naylor's novel amplifies the systemic racism that keeps everyone in stuck in place ... many passages here that make a reader stop and appreciate the way Naylor expresses nuanced emotional states ... Deftly, Naylor gathers all these individual stories into one climactic narrative that works through the reader via a word-by-word sense of horror and outrage. The power to decide who, in fact, can be permitted the ordinary chance to be 'just a lousy human being' is itself still the subject of furious argument in this country. The Women of Brewster Place, born of the details of a particular time and community, also turns out to be one of those, yes, universal stories depicting how we, the fallen, seek grace.