Did I love it? No, this is not a book one can love. Did I learn? Did I cry? Did I feel outrage, despair, empathy? You bet. This was a novel to be read one chapter at a time. I honestly could not do more than that. Each chapter left me wrung out for the main character, Lutie Johnson.
So let me over simplify:
- Lutie married for love.
- He cannot get a job because he is black.
- They do their best, raising foster children as income until her irresponsible father causes the children to be taken from them.
- They have a mortgage that must be paid.
- Lutie goes to work for a wealthy white family in Connecticut; she is away for weeks at a time to save every penny.
- Her husband finds another woman because Lutie is away supporting them because he cannot find a job.
- She moves in with her father, studies hard, and gets a low level civil service job.
- She moves out because her father and his girlfriend are bad influences on Bub, her son.
- Because she is a single working mother, Bub is forced to spend long hours alone.
- The crazy building super uses her son to try and win his way into her bed. This sets off a chain of events that leads to nothing but heartache.
- Junto, a white man who owns everyone and everything, wants her. This sets off a chain of events.
I loved the language. The description of Harlem and its people was vivid. The characters, so simple on the surface, carried layer upon layer to the story. Lutie's story was the constant; Petry interwove the tales of Mrs. Hedges, Bobby Smith, Junto, Min, "Supe", and Bub. Each vignette created a tapestry of Lutie's street. Its poverty, prejudice, and perversion. The frailties of the weak, and the sheer determination of Lutie.