Saturday, February 11, 2006
Buzzworthy: Babylon Sisters by Pearl Cleage
Catherine Sanderson seems to have it all: a fulfilling career helping immigrant women find jobs, a lovely home, and a beautiful, intelligent daughter on her way to Smith College. What Catherine doesn’t have: a father for her child– and she’s spent many years dodging her daughter’s questions about it. Now Phoebe is old enough to start poking around on her own. It doesn’t help matters that the mystery man, B.J. Johnson–the only man Catherine has ever loved–doesn’t even know about Phoebe. He’s been living in Africa.
Now B.J., a renowned newspaper correspondent, is back in town and needs Catherine’s help cracking a story about a female slavery ring operating right on the streets of Atlanta. Catherine is eager to help B.J., despite her heart’s uncertainty over meeting him again after so long, and confessing the truth to him–and their daughter.
Meanwhile, Catherine’s hands are more than full since she’s taken on a new client. Atlanta’s legendary Miss Mandeville–a housekeeper turned tycoon–is eager to have Catherine staff her housekeeping business. But why are the steely Miss Mandeville and her all-too-slick sidekick Sam so interested in Catherine’s connection to B.J.? What transpires is an explosive story that takes her world–not to mention the entire city of Atlanta–by storm.
From the New York Times bestselling author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day... comes another fast-paced and emotionally resonant novel, by turns warm and funny, serious and raw. Pearl Cleage’s ability to create a gripping story centered on strong, spirited black women and the important issues they face remains unrivaled.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
My daughter is upstairs weeping. She’s been up there in her room for three days, six hours, and thirty-two minutes, weeping. For three days, five hours, and forty-one minutes, I indulged her. A broken heart may not be as visible as chicken pox but the scars are just as bad. So I listened and I commiserated and I clucked sympathetically while she examined and reexamined every detail of her first love’s betrayal. I took her meals upstairs on a tray, made tea to soothe her nerves and mine, and resisted every opportunity to say, “Phoebe, my darling, I told you he wasn’t for you in the first place.” The last thing you need in the throes of first heartbreak, when you’re still not sure you’ll survive it, is to hear the absolute, unvarnished truth spoken for the second time by your mother, who first uttered the words when you brought the young, betraying fool home and confessed, Oh, Mama, I think he’s the one!
He was never the one. He was handsome and interesting and sexy and as serious as she was about saving the world by next Tuesday at the very latest. He was also way too full of the blazing sexual energy of his emerging manhood to be anybody’s one for very long. But at seventeen, how was she supposed to know? She handed him her heart, and everything else that wasn’t tied down, and they were inseparable from October of her junior year until June, when they had to go their separate ways for the summer. She was determined not to let distance destroy their relationship, but once they were apart he seemed to be drifting away from her, and neither one knew what to do about it. After a summer of long-distance spats and tearful reconciliations, he confessed via a long e-mail that he had fallen in love with someone else and closed with a wish that they could always be friends.
That was three days ago, and I’m still sympathetic. I am her mother, after all, and I do love my child. But it was time for her to dry her eyes and blow her nose and get herself together. Nobody ever really dies of a broken heart except in the movies, and it is my opinion, motherhood aside, that more than three days in mourning for the demise of a relationship with any man is unseemly, not to mention a real strain on the women who have to help you through it. It was time for her to segue from self-pity to self-examination by asking the all-important question: What is the lesson here for me? Although it is deceptively simple, this question cuts to the heart of the matter because it turns that trembling, accusatory finger you’re pointing at everybody else right back around to yourself. My darling daughter had spent enough time blaming her boyfriend. Now it was time for her to look at what she could have done differently to avoid this painful moment.
When she was younger, I would consider the lesson question with her so she’d begin to understand how it always leads to the heart of the matter. When she got older, I would just remind her to ask it, then leave her to think about the answer all by herself. That’s what I intended to do tonight. She could review and evaluate her choices while she finished packing and I finished returning three days’ worth of phone calls. I love having my office at home, and since Phoebe went off to boarding school two years ago, it’s been not only convenient, but quiet, the last seventy-two drama-filled hours notwithstanding.
I’d better enjoy it while I can. Phoebe’s going to college next year. She’s got her heart set on Smith, and the Seven Sisters have never been a place for bohemian mothers living on a budget to send their darling daughters. It looks like after all these years of stretching my little inheritance and living by my wits, I’m actually going to have to break down and get a full-time job where somebody else signs the check and covers the health insurance. I’m going to try to keep some of my longtime clients. Most of them can’t afford to hire anybody half as good as I am, and they’ve never needed me more.
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