BAILEY’S CAFE has a different quality from that of Gloria Naylor’s first book, THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE, a slice of urban realism which established her reputation. While she continues to use a wealth of detail in order to bring her settings and her characters to live, in this new novelNaylor has overlaid her realism with magic. For example, the cafe where her characters gather seems to have no specific geographical location; it is as accessible to a fleeing Ethiopian child as to a native of Chicago. Similarly, while Eve’s bordello can always be reached from the front of the cafe, the back door opens variously on scenes from the past and on a great dark void.
In each chapter of BAILEY’S CAFE, Naylor has a different character recount his or her life story, a story marked by failure and terminating at Bailey’s Cafe or at Eve’s place of business. What is clear from each of the accounts is that these outcasts are all motivated by universal human needs. It was the yearning for love which drove Sadie to obsessive cleanliness, then to alcohol, and which caused Jesse Bell, when snubbed by her husband’s family, to take to drugs; it was laudable ambition which eventually drove the well-educated black man, “Miss” Maple, to work in a bordello, which had been established by a woman who herself had fled from Delta dust in hopes of finding a better life.
The reminiscences of these victims of human selfishness, lust, cruelty, and indifference are heartbreaking. However, what makes BAILEY’S CAFE most impressive is not Naylor’s vivid accounts of her characters’ sufferings, but her emphasis on their will to endure. Through her magical vision, Gloria Naylor has revealed both the humanity of her outcasts and their potential for heroism.
Andrews, Larry R. “Black Sisterhood in Gloria Naylor’s Novels.” College Language Association Journal 33 (September, 1989): 1–25. Traces the development of Naylor’s views of female friendship in her first three novels. In The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills, Naylor sees such relationships as useful but limited. Mama Day, however, is a “celebration of sisterhood as empowered by folk tradition, by nature, and by abiding spiritual forces.”
Gates, Henry Louis, and K. A. Appiah, eds. Gloria Naylor: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993.
Jones, Marie F. Review of Bailey’s Café, by Gloria Naylor. Library Journal 117 (September 1, 1992): 215. Succinct, useful review. Jones argues that the characters and their sufferings determine the direction of the novel. Calls the characterizations in Bailey’s Café Naylor’s most interesting since The Women of Brewster Place.
Kaveney, Roz. “At the Magic Diner.” Times Literary Supplement, July 17, 1992, 20. An unfavorable review. Kaveney praises the book’s subject matter but argues that Bailey’s Café fails because of its structure. Kaveney calls the novel “a poor book from an admirable writer.”
Montgomery, M. L. “Authority, Multivocality, and the New World Order in Gloria Naylor’s Bailey’s Cafe.” African American Review 29, no. 1 (1995): 27-33.
Naylor, Gloria. “Gloria Naylor.” Interview by Mickey Pearlman. In A Voice of One’s Own: Conversations with America’s Writing Women , by Mickey Pearlman and Katherine Usher Henderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. A superb interview by a major scholar....
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