Bailey's Café Summary
Bailey's Cafe is about a cafe where people with problems come to deal with what's going on in their lives. It's not a stationary location; rather, it appears where it's needed and when it's needed. The book is broken into several sections and focuses on a variety of characters including the proprietor and the people who come to visit the cafe.
At the beginning of the book, the proprietor—who is referred to as Bailey, even though that's not his given name—discusses his life. He's married to a woman named Nadine, fought in World War II, and carries a lot of guilt from the war after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. He doesn't know how he found himself working in the cafe exactly, only that it happened while he was in San Francisco.
Eve is a woman who runs a boarding house near the cafe. Much like the cafe, it's more than its title implies—people are only able to stay there if they're invited and if she perceives that it's going to be good for them. Some of the people who stay with Eve are the characters whose stories make up the book. Eve's godfather was a preacher who kept her from even being touched by another man. Ester was the first customer at Bailey's cafe. She ate the bun off a burger but didn't eat the meat because she's a vegetarian.
Gabe is the owner of a pawnshop that is connected with Bailey's and Eve's boarding house. His pawnshop is never open but the closed sign directs people to Bailey's.
Sadie was an abused child who was sexually exploited. She was forced into prostitution, married an abusive man, and had her home stolen by her daughters. She's a sensitive and kind person who comes to the cafe and finds a welcome there. She never tries to find Eve's boarding house, whereas the other women in the story do.
Esther was also an abused child who was given to her brother's boss at the age of twelve to be his wife. They were married for twelve years before she left him and came to the cafe and the boarding house. She begins to heal from her trauma while staying with Eve.
Mary—also known as Peaches—was so beautiful that no one really saw who she was as a person. She was abused by men and women emotionally even when her family took steps to protect her. She takes to cutting herself to damage her beauty. At one point, her father comes to the cafe to find her but is told she won't come home until she's ready.
Jesse is the victim of racism from her husband's family. She loses her husband and son to their hatred. When she can't stand it anymore, she turns to heroin. When she arrives at Bailey's, she's an addict. Eve helps her detox and then forces her to choose whether or not to use again by making heroin readily available.
The book closes with Stanley, who likes to wear women's clothing and cannot find a job. He comes to work at Eve's. It also closes with Miriam, a pregnant teenager who is also a virgin. She was sexually mutilated and unable to have sex. She is sent to Eve's by Gabe instead of going through Bailey's. She gives birth to George, who is sent to be raised by a loving family.
Bailey’s Café is the story of a magical place and of the lost souls who have there found, if not redemption, at least a safe haven. As the chapter and section titles suggest, Naylor structures her novel in the form of a jazz performance. The book begins with “Maestro, If You Please,” in which Bailey, as the bandleader, introduces himself; this is followed by “The Vamp,” Bailey’s introduction to his café. The main part of the book is entitled “The Jam,” and Bailey’s Café ends with a short, upbeat chapter appropriately called “The Wrap.”
The novel begins with a first-person narrative by the man whom everyone calls Bailey, after the name of his place of business. Even though Bailey never does mention his real name, he does not omit anything else from his life story. He describes his childhood as the child of African Americans who were the servants of wealthy African Americans, his successful courtship of the...
(The entire section is 2,258 words.)