Mama Day

Mama Daybook by Gloria Naylor

annotation by Tisha Reichle

Throughout the novel I was enthralled by the settings and intrigued by the powerful female characters. At the end, however, I was not sure exactly what happened. Was the life of one human being sacrificed so that a family legacy could continue? Was it voodoo or cultural necessity?

This is a novel about an intricate web of traditional Southern black people with powerful women at the center. In spite of being from a different race/culture, I see my female ancestors’ strengths in the women of Willow Springs; I also see our flaws. Through the people living isolated on the island of Willow Springs, I learned to appreciate the intimacy of a small town and be grateful I no longer have to suffocate in one.

The complexities of Naylor’s narrative rest in the relationship between two sisters (Miranda and Abigail) and their great niece/granddaughter (Ophelia – Cocoa). Cocoa has worries of her own in New York – find a job and find a man. Only when Cocoa has both can she return to Willow Springs and participate in the town ritual as a woman. The man she finds (George Andrews) has no past, but becomes part of the Day family, one with a legacy steeped superstition. On the island, Cocoa and George are confronted with evil forces conjured by a jealous woman after a big storm. The combined strength of Miranda (Mama Day) and the voices whispering from the other side keep death at bay. However, George is the only one who can complete the life and death cycle so the next generation of Days in Willow Springs can flourish. Does this mean they had to be rescued by a man?

In spite of the uncertainty, I loved Naylor’s structure and organization; it enabled me to enjoy the various points of view and it is also a good model for what I am doing with the characters in my own novel. Without the confines of chapters, Naylor’s sequence of events can flow more freely. My structure is hindered, I think, by the need to have characters names every time I change point of view. What Naylor does with the three diamonds is less disruptive and more conducive to occasional brief sections (which I have).

Spiritual magic is the other inspiration Naylor offers for my writing. I wrote one short story that ends with the death of the protagonist’s grandfather, and I want to build a collection around that with each story having some element of magical realism. I definitely want to read (and re-read) more of Naylor’s work.

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