Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)
Gloria Naylor’s first novel, The Women of Brewster Place (1982), caused an immediate sensation upon its publication. Only thirty-two, she was hailed by critics as one of the most important young voices in American literature. The book, a collection of connected stories centered on one inner-city neighborhood, went on to win the American Book Award for First Novel and was adapted into a popular television film. Her next novel, also reviewed favorably, was Linden Hills (1985), which is set in a middle-class black neighborhood in which the surface calm fails to reflect the tensions underneath. A character in the story, Willa Prescott Nedeed, is the cousin of Cocoa Day, providing a link with Mama Day, Naylor’s third novel, which was also praised by critics. Her fourth novel, Bailey’s Cafe (1992), tells the stories of a group of characters who frequent a restaurant owned by a man named Bailey; the cafe also receives passing mention in Mama Day.
Each of these novels features well-developed characters. Naylor has an unusually precise knack for fleshing out a character in a few carefully chosen words, and her characters breathe and live. Naylor attributes this quality to the fact that she allows her characters the freedom to develop their own lives after she first creates them. Rather than dictate the plot, she records what happens when the characters encounter one another. For her, characters such as Mama Day and Cocoa are as real as nonfictional people.