What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. . . Analysis

Pearl Cleage

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. . .

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY ON AN ORDINARY DAY. . ., Pearl Cleage takes on loneliness, AIDS, love, friendship, and urban terror. In the small town of Idlewild, Michigan, old clashes with new, ignorance clashes with sanity, and hope clashes with despair.

When Ava Johnson is ostracized from her successful Atlanta hair salon after she tests positive for HIV, she goes to stay with her sister in this small, all-black, lakeside community on her way to a new life in San Francisco. She finds her sister Joyce running a church-based support group for young mothers whose husbands or boyfriends are abusive, negligent, and unemployed. Joyce is beginning to make a difference in the lives of these women when the new preacher’s wife discontinues the meetings. Ava also gets reacquainted with Eddie Jefferson, who had been the best friend to Joyce’s now deceased husband, and who is now Joyce’s friend and protector. As Joyce temporarily adopts one of the town’s unwanted babies, and tries to find a new place to hold her meetings, Ava and Eddie find themselves helping Joyce together, and they fall in love. As two young men begin to burglarize the homes of the elderly, and the preacher’s wife pulls strings to get Joyce’s baby taken away, all three find themselves involved in a war to save the sanity of the town.

In spite of the fact that Joyce and Eddie seem almost too good to be true, the feeling at the end that all the bad guys are gone, and some confusion about the status of Ava’s health and what she is doing about it, the book is deeply moving and compassionate, a real insight into the terror of urban life as it spills into the small towns, and a beautiful journey toward finding one’s self.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

HIV and AIDS in America
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) made its first official announcement regarding Acquired Immune...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

First-Person Narrator
The entire story is told from Ava’s perspective in her own voice. Ava is direct, stubborn, and sometimes...

(The entire section is 683 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

One of the main techniques Cleage uses in her novel is the repeated use of irony. Gerry Anderson, for example, considers herself to be a...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day focuses on a woman who, after contracting HIV, derives spiritual peace by actively...

(The entire section is 180 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, Ava Johnson is a fortyish successful African-American hair stylist who lives in Atlanta....

(The entire section is 843 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the current status of treatment for AIDS. What treatments are most effective, and how expensive are they? What is the prognosis for...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Cleage's novel is primarily a tale of black women surviving and overcoming enormous obstacles. Ava's search for love and full acceptance as a...

(The entire section is 559 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

What Looks Like Crazy was adapted as an abridged edition audiocassette published by Simon and Schuster (Audio), 1998.

(The entire section is 17 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Jeannie Brewer’s A Crack in Forever (1996) is the story of how a new romance between a medical student, Eric Moro, and a textbook...

(The entire section is 240 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Bashir, Samiya A., “Pearl Cleage’s Idlewild Idylls,” in Black Issues Book Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, July 2001,...

(The entire section is 317 words.)