Introduction

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Healing is the story of a woman’s journey to wholeness and self-knowledge. Rather than telling the story in strict chronological order, the novel opens at a time when its protagonist is near the achievement of her quest. Harlan Jane Eagleton is on her way by bus to yet another “little tank town,” to perform faith healing at a church. The bus ride, the healing ritual itself, and the novel’s side events are all narrated in a run-on, stream-of-consciousness style. The narrative voice is usually Harlan’s, but it often slides into those of other characters, either spoken or assumed by Harlan. The novel’s opening is confusing but intriguing, and it leads into an extended series of flashbacks.

Harlan Jane was brought up in Louisville, Kentucky, by her mother and grandmother, who owned a beauty salon. Harlan too becomes a beautician. She meets Joan, the rock singer, at a party. Joan, always keen on fashion experiments, asks for a sample makeup job. Harlan hires on as the singer’s makeup person, starts helping with her books as well, and ends up working as her manager. She negotiates more and better deals than the singer had been getting on her own, but Joan remains a small fish in the ocean of pop music.

The relationship that develops between Harlan and Joan is complex and often infuriating to both. They spend much time together when on tour, and they share a running commentary on such diverse topics as popular culture, the rarity of African American scientists, and even the pros and cons of song titles. Joan’s manipulative nature begins to wear on Harlan, however, and after she sets her up for a liaison with Joan’s ex-husband Jamey, sexual jealousy is added to their complicated friendship.

In between tours, Joan retreats to a farm she owns in Minnesota. Harlan Jane goes off to...

(The entire section is 743 words.)