'Nobody's Magic' by Destiny O. Birdsong
I'm really excited about this author. As someone who is not a big consumer of poetry, I wasn't aware of her previous work, but as a debut writer of prose, she's definitely someone to pay attention to. This book is comprised of three stories, connected only by the origin of the main characters (Shreveport, LA and its environs) and the fact that they are women with albinism. And there's also the clever but subtle implication in each of the stories that though these women haven't met, they've heard of each other, probably by virtue of sharing the same fairly rare genetic condition in a small community.
In the first story, 'Drive', Suzette is the much-loved, and also much-controlled daughter of an indulgent father (and a mother who goes along with it) who, after an early scare, keeps her close to home ostensibly for her safety. People have a lot of crazy ideas about albinism, and Suzette and her folks have found that out the hard way. But despite her condition, Suzette is feisty, fearless and knows she's fierce. As she turns twenty, and sees her friends begin to move on to college, relationships and the like, she begins to balk at her parents' overprotectiveness and push for more independence. That push takes the form of wanting to get a driver's license, something that for most people is a routine rite of passage but for someone with albinism involves special glasses, testing and specific licensure. Fortunately, her father owns a car shop, tricking out and repairing cars; so it should be easy enough to get a vehicle at least---after all, Suzette generally gets whatever else she wants from her dad. But .. not so fast. A budding attraction to one of her father's mechanics both hastens Suzette's desire to be her own woman and causes her father to try to block it, but she takes steps to get there, surprising both herself and people who love her most. This story was very engaging, from the language, to the culture, to the mood and spirit of both Suzette and her extended circle of loved ones. I also loved the way the author showed Suzette's evolution from spoiled, sheltered and somewhat bratty princess to a woman on a mission to discover herself. The sense of Shreveport as a place was so strong here, it was like its own character. You could see, smell and taste it in a way that's pretty tough to accomplish. You can tell the author loves where she's from.
In the second story, 'Bottled Water', Maple is daughter to Brenda May Moffett, a stripper and sometimes "ho". Neither Maple nor Brenda have any shame about that fact---what matters most is their bond as mother and daughter, despite the disapproval of Nana, Brenda's mother who has pretensions that her family and daughter are more upstanding than they actually are. But when Brenda is murdered, Maple finds her solace not in her Nana, but in the extended community of dopeboys, strippers and hoes, all of whom form a patchwork support system. But their love and support may not be enough to compensate for Maple's loss of the only person in the world who loved her completely and just as she is. Until she meets Chad, who though carrying pain of his own, just might help her find a way to heal.
And finally, my least favorite of the stories in this book, 'Mind the Prompt'. This one was a little bit of a hiccup for me, because unlike the others it felt less like a complete novella than it did an abandoned attempt at a standalone novel. In this one, Agnes, a well-educated but solitary young woman reflects on the dead-end of her life while working a gig grading exams in Utah, rather than teaching at a college, which her PhD more than qualifies her for. Of the three protagonists in these stories, Agnes was the only one truly hamstrung by her albinism, and who accepted much less than she deserved because of it. She was also the only truly selfish of the three, pursuing a relationship for the purely mercenary purpose of improving her standard of living and outdoing her older sister. While unlikeable, Agnes was not a character with whom you couldn't sympathize. Yet the maltreatment she endured seemed less a product of her albinism than it was a product of what she told herself about her albinism. It was also interesting that of all the women, Agnes was the only one who took pains to conceal her condition. Her journey is one of self-acceptance, and seeking out the source of her underachievement. No surprise that it lies with her complicated family.
On the whole, this book was easy to consume. Not because the writing was facile or frivolous (believe me it was not... you see the poet emerge in the prose. I underlined and highlighted the hell out of this book) but because it was all so relatable and even when not (as in Maple's story for me), it made you relate anyway. I also love that the author doesn't judge her characters. Y'know what I mean? Their stories are not morality tales, they are slices of the inner lives of women, doing what all women---and men----try to do: figure it all out. I hope Destiny O. Birdsong (damn, even her name is a poem) writes more fiction. I'm here for all of it.
My rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑