Monday, February 6, 2012

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

   "To be cherished was the dearest wish of the heart of Maud Martha Brown" writes Gwendolyn Brooks in the opening pages of her one and only published novel (p. 2).  We meet Maud Martha when she is just seven years old and follow her story through childhood, school years, dating, marriage, and motherhood.  Maud Martha believes that "to most people, nothing at all 'happens,'" but Gwendolyn Brooks pursues the tiny sparks and daily miracles and tragedies that most people overlook in an ordinary life (p. 149).  Simple, daily occurrences are described so intimately and sharply that you'll wonder why your own everyday experiences seem so uneventful and dull.  Gwendolyn Brooks could write the biography of a dust mite and make it intense, riveting, and empathetic, which perhaps explains why she won the Pulitzer Prize and was named Poet Laureate of Illinois.

   Maud Martha was chosen as this month's selection for Laurie Notaro's Idiot Girls Book Club, which is an online Book Club that meets once a month through Facebook.  This is my first month joining the IGBC, but after reading Maud Martha, I am definitely coming back in March!  Just as I was blown away by the poetic strength in Lionel Shriver's novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, I was equally impressed by the writing in Maud Martha.  It did take me a few chapters to get used to the staccato flashes that comprise her story, but it is a powerful way of writing, and for a novel that is only 180 pages, Maud Martha is succinctly well-defined.  Written with the poignancy and grace of Brooks's own poetry and the raw intuition of a Toni Morrison novel, Maud Martha provides a brief glimpse into the life of an "ordinary" mid 20th century Black woman.

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