Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Things start out very well. A great opening line. A paragraph that grabs you like it’s not going to let go.  This wonderful bit:

It’s not the moment that is the tragedy. It’s the memory.

Things don’t go wrong either, not exactly. They just don’t quite go anywhere.

I’m a dissenter.

Jacqueline Woodson’s novel for adults Another Brooklyn has gotten nothing but the highest of praise. Everyone loves it. Everyone.

But me.

The story of a young girl’s move to Brooklyn and her subsequent friendship with three other neighborhood girls in the 1970’s has all the elements for a terrific novel.  Interesting characters. Complex relationships with families.  A changing landscape as Brooklyn goes from white to black. And the usual tensions growing up always brings.

But while the writing is up to Ms. Woodson’s usual high poetic standards it does not work so well in a novel.  I loved her free verse memoir Brown Girl Dreaming  but this time I felt like I was reading a fictional memoir instead of a novel.  There was no driving dramatic tension.  There was more dramatic tension in Brown Girl Dreaming now that I think about it.

The thing about memoir is that it’s not really about plot, not really about story, more about anecdote.  That’s fine in a memoir, wonderful if you enjoy reading memoirs, but it doesn’t serve a novel all that well.  Even a character based novel like this one, needs some kind of dramatic tension to keep things going forward.

There’s a quote I read long ago about E.M. Forster’s work.  I cannot remember who said it but essentially “Forster never gets past brewing the kettle.  Feel this kettle.  Is it not delightfully warm?  Yes, but there isn’t going to be any tea.

That’s how I felt about Another Brooklyn. It was delightfully warm, but it was no cup of tea.

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8 Comments

  1. I enjoyed your description of this book. Thanks for putting in the quote by Forster. I loved it. So many things in life are like that quote. Have a wonderful Christmas, get it over with then move on to a wonderful 2017 with lots of interesting reads.

    1. Thank you. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas as well.

  2. It felt more like a poem to me than a novel, but I guess I decided to appreciate it as such, because I agree with you, basically.

    1. I appreciated it. It’s good. But I was hoping for more. I agree that it does read more like a poem. I wonder if that’s the heart of the issue, a poet writing a novel?

  3. Teresa says:

    I think this was a good book in a year that was lacking in great books (in my reading, anyway). The fine language and descriptions were enough to sustain my interest, even without much narrative tension. If it had been longer, I might have gotten bored. But I did like Brown Girl Dreaming (and Hush and Locomotion) more.

    1. The language and the descriptions were excellent, but that’s not enough to sustain a novel. I think you’re right, they would not have done the trick had this book been longer. I think it’s really a novella, to be honest.

  4. writerrea says:

    You’re not alone. I was not enchanted by this one at all. It felt very slight and undeveloped to me.

    1. While not enchanted, I was entertained and I did like the book. But I agree that it was slight and undeveloped.

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