Toni Cade Bambara Bambara, Toni Cade (Vol. 19)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bambara, Toni Cade

Bambara is a black American novelist, short story writer, and editor. Her work centers on the emerging identity of the black woman. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.)

Saturday Review

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The fifteen stories in Gorilla, My Love] are among the best portraits of black life to have appeared in some time. Written in a breezy, engaging style that owes a good deal to street dialect, they are concerned primarily with children and manage to incorporate the virtues of such stories—zest and charm—yet avoid most of the sentimental pratfalls. Moreover, they have resonance: their anger is a knife slicing through the entertainment, and it continues to cut when the stories are over. Bambara's subjects … are filled with inherent pathos; but Bambara writes with pride, wit, and a generous portion of human warmth. (pp. 97-8)

"Shorter Reviews: 'Gorilla, My Love'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 55, No. 47, December, 1972, pp. 97-8.

Bell Gale Chevigny

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "Gorilla, My Love" Toni Cade Bambara] takes time for a wide range of black relationships at home and in the neighborhood and for the discovery of complexity in black unity. It is interesting that none of these … [stories] center on relations between black men and women (though in two, women deal with separation from their lovers). The characters of whom she writes most often and with the greatest tenderness and subtle invention are adolescents and old people, mostly female. It is as if before treating the fraught relations between men and women she must draw in her writing on the knowledge of those for whom sexual conflict is past and those for whom sexual differentiation has not yet become rigid.

I find much of the writing here wonderful and well worth anyone's attention. The stories are often sketchy as to plot, but always lavish in their strokes—there are elaborate illustrations, soaring asides, aggressive sub-plots. They are never didactic, but they abound in far-out common sense, exotic home truths. The black life she draws on—mostly in New York City but sometimes in the rural South—whether bizarre, poignant, or hilarious, is so vividly particularized you don't feel the wisdom or bite till later. (p. 39)

In the stories I like best of this group, the real world makes some claims that threaten the balance. In "The Lesson," the young narrator, her resources stripped, flees from a bitter demonstration of ill-distributed wealth in a visit to F.A.O. Schwarz. In "The Hammer Man," the tomboy narrator is on her "last fling" before committing herself to young womanhood. She watches her old antagonist, the crazy boy of the neighborhood, talking to himself and shooting baskets on a court at night. When the cops try to interfere, she defends him, but they take him away. By the time she learns he was sent to a state hospital, she is already competing in a fashion show. Here the role of woman is narrow, but safer….

But in "The Johnson Girls," a story extraordinarily rich in funny talk and true pain, the teenage narrator is forced to confront the choices facing strong black women. She watches Inez, a clear, proud woman, surrounded by women friends like Job's comforters, as she packs to go after her man who has left only a note. Above the battle, Inez has always offered "a tax-free relationship, no demands, no pressure, no games, no jumpin up and down with ultimatums"; one friend points out that this "is the heaviest damn pressure of all." The friends discuss black men…. [Finally Inez] permits her sisters to help her think through what she wants and how to get it. This compromise between solidarity and an impossible ideal of selfhood is instructive for the black women's movement and beyond. (pp. 39-40)

[At] moments, she risks, by classical standards, over-writing of a curious sort. She fools with an excess of understatement that makes her tone unique—zealously cool, ardently tough. But once you're won by its rhythms, it runs on...

(The entire section is 3,043 words.)