The Stories

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Some Soul to Keep is made up of five stories, all of which are sufficiently long and eventful to seem like miniature novels. All are told by female narrators and are intended to be read aloud so that the subtleties of the black dialect can be fully appreciated. These narrators are strongly opinionated and frequently interrupt their narratives to interject philosophical observations. Cooper violates many sacrosanct conventions of modern story writing. It might be more accurate to call these five short works “tales,” because they have an episodic quality that is rather refreshing to readers who have become accustomed to tight, calculated, inhibited modern short stories in which conflicts are mainly internalized.

“Sisters of the Rain” is narrated by two women who are not characters in the story but are observers. The first is an elderly schoolteacher. Halfway through the story, the narration is taken over by the schoolteacher’s daughter, who grew up with the characters Superior, Jewel, and Glenellen. The story contrasts the lives of those three women between their early teens and their mid-forties. Two of them have tragic lives because they lacked worthy female role models. Only Superior, the least attractive and least intelligent, is successful, because her mother inspired her to make the most of her limited talents. The schoolteacher narrator uses her part of the story to illustrate her guiding principle: “You know, life goes a long way, don’t it? Just is all around you . . . filling up all the tiniest places, so you got to watch round you and keep it all together. Watch it, so to take care of it best you can, with whatever you have to work with.”

“The Life You Live (May Not Be Your Own)” is narrated by Molly, who is also the main character. She and her childhood friend Isobel live as hostile next-door neighbors for twelve...

(The entire section is 766 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Ames, Carol. Review of Some Soul to Keep, by J. California Cooper. Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 27, 1987, 4. The reviewer criticizes Cooper’s stories as being too long for stories and not long enough for novels. She says the stories have “neither the concision and focus of stories, nor the amplitude of detail and incident of a novel.” She acknowledges that they are often “lusty, touching and wise.”

Carter, Patricia A. Review of Some Soul to Keep, by J. California Cooper. Essence 18 (September, 1987): 34. The reviewer believes that the common denominator of Cooper’s stories is her “strong yet sensitive heroines who find the inner power to survive the poverty of the rural South or the cold indifference of the North.”

Cooper, J. California. Family. New York: Doubleday, 1991. Cooper’s first novel deals with slavery and conditions in the South after emancipation. Many of the stylistic devices developed in her short stories are evident in this historical novel, particularly the use of a first-person female narrator.

Cooper, J. California. Homemade Love. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A collection of short stories in which Cooper continues to develop her unique method of using a narrator who interjects personal observations and bits of folk wisdom....

(The entire section is 517 words.)