Stef (firecat) wrote,

Zora Neale Hurston

By indirect request of coffeeandink has a collection of six short stories by Zora Neale Hurston that I recently read. I had never read any Hurston before.

The stories are narrated by Renee Joshua-Porter and the work won the AudioFile Earphones Award for Exceptional Audio Performance. Hurston was a folklorist who wrote her characters' dialogue in African American dialect, that can be difficult to read for people not used to the sound of the dialect. So I think it's especially helpful to have a really well performed audio version of these stories.

The stories were awesome. She was writing about black people in the rural South and also in New York City. What she wrote about was so specific and so universal at the same time. She has a keen ear for dialogue that makes the stories come alive, and the stories are rich in details about how the characters lived. They are also observant and compassionate (in a detached way) about the ways people interact and how they affect each other emotionally.

It was interesting how the stories in the collection were arranged, sort of from "happy endings that make you go hmm" to "neutral endings that make you go hmm" to "sad endings where someone is happy anyway" to "ding dong the witch is dead" endings.

I'm looking forward to reading more Hurston.

""Drenched in Light" is about a sunny girl who has a mean grandmother but is “rescued” by a rich white woman who kind of wants her as a pet. It leaves me wondering "is this really a good thing? What will happen next?”

"The Conscience of the Court" is about a black woman who is on trial. For a while I thought it was going in the direction of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it went in the opposite direction: the judge believed her and didn't believe the white guy who was prosecuting her, and the white family she had tried to protect hadn't abandoned her in jail after all.

"Muttsy" is about a woman who moves to New York from the South and winds up staying in a bed and board speakeasy kind of joint. A gambler/player falls in love with her and they marry. She keeps him on the straight and narrow for a while but at the very end of the story he is falling back into his old gambling ways.

"The Gilded Six-Bits" is about a happily married couple. A slick guy moves to town and seduces the wife. The husband takes a long time to forgive her, but she gets pregnant and it turns out the baby is the husband’s and not the seducer's, and then he forgives her. That makes it sound really sexist. The middle of the story, about how they continue living together but don’t trust each other any more, is really poignant.

"John Redding Goes to Sea" is about a family that disagrees about the life dream of one of the family members, with tragic consequences. It's about people holding each other back.

"Sweat" is a really disturbing story about an abusive marriage. The wife is the breadwinner and owns the house. The husband wants to drive his wife out of the house, so he can move in with his girlfriend. Among other techniques, he tries using his wife's snake phobia to scare her out.
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