Ansa's New Novel Strays from the Mark
Format: Hardcover, 336pp.
Publisher: Morrow,William & Co
Pub. Date: April 2002
Edition Desc: 1 ED
Reviewed by Beverly King
The voices of ancestors are all too often missing at bookstores and libraries. Ancestors and their spirits -- staples of the black literary canon -- are ageless, timeless beings that offer benevolence and instruction to both the characters and the readers. Ancestral figures serve to impart badly needed wisdom, because in today's rush-rush life there is little time to impress upon others what they should know. Conjurers, believed to possess the power to withstand death and to alter their appearance or circumstances, or those of their clients, are also traditional figures in the black literary canon.
In her previous novels Tina McElroy Ansa successfully and skillfully employed ancestral spirits and conjurers as central characters in her story. In Baby of the Family, the source of Lena McPherson's power to see ghosts and predict the future was a caul or extra layer of skin over her eyes. In Ugly Ways the spirit of the dead mother Madear Lovejoy constantly hovers above her three daughters, offering unsolicited commentary and advice. And in Ansa's third novel, The Hand I Fan With, a supernatural ritual is performed to conjure up a man for a woman desperate for love and companionship.
Ansa's latest novel, You Know Better, takes place during the weekend of the Peach Blossom Festival in Mulberry. But life is far from "peaches and blossoms" for the Pines women. LaShawndra is an 18-year-old "hoochie mama" whose goal is to dance in music videos. Sandra, her mother, is in agreement that her daughter is indeed a "hoochie mama". Lily, Sandra's mother, is a former teacher, principal and school board administrator, who scour the streets looking for LaShawndra. Over the course of the Peach Blossom weekend the Pines women are gonna encounter some spirits.
With so many demeaning, disrespectful images of black women in music and videos, it's a shame that Ansa does not invest the Pines women, (and their spirits), with much power to uplift, empower, educate and entertain. Black women's desire for characters that look, think and act like them does not translate into a desire for negative reflections of themselves. Many black female readers want to hear the wise counsel of ancestors, and they want to read about conjurers and spirits. They want to hear the voices of young women in trouble in the 21st Century. What black women who seek ancestors, conjurers and spirits for wisdom do not want are the coochies and the 'hos.
Fans of Ansa's previous work will want to approach You Know Better with
caution. Some spirit seems to have led her to stray far from the wisdom of her
traditional ancestral voices. She should know better.