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The Street: A Novel

The Street: A Novel - Ann Petry Raw, riveting, and sadly still reflective of our own times, this novel describes life on a street in Harlem in 1945. I found the pacing a bit slow and some text a bit repetitious, but maybe that was needed to drive home the point that poverty and lack of opportunity are a crucible melting the hardiest values and weakening the strongest souls. The end is both expected and a surprise—well done.

What I liked best: Pretty much everything, but especially all the points of view. We’re mainly with Lutie, the single mother trying to make a better life for 8-year-old Bub and herself, but we also see the street over the shoulder of nearly a dozen others. Knowing what the building super, Jones, thought of Lutie ramped up the tension every time they were in a scene together—would he hurt her now? Also hard to watch little Bub make decisions that made sense from his point of view but I knew could only lead to ill.

Liked least: Plot and pacing. This is episodic, a slow wearing away of hope. Better to read to enjoy the amazing language and clear points of view.

She was stuck here on this street, in this dark, dirty house. It was going to take a long time to get out. She thought of the Chandlers and their friends in Lyme. They were right about people being able to make money, but it took hard, grinding work to do it -- hard work and self-sacrifice. She was capable of both, she concluded. Furthermore, she would never permit herself to become resigned to living here. She had a sudden vivid recollection of the tragic, resigned faces of the young girls and the old man she had seen in the spring. No. She would never become like that.

Her thoughts returned to Junto, and the bitterness and the hardness increased. In every direction, anywhere one turned, there was always the implacable figure of a white man blocking the way, so that it was impossible to escape. If she needed anything to spur her on, she thought, this fierce hatred, this deep contempt, for white people would do it. She would never forget Junto. She would keep her hatred of him alive. She would feed it as though it were a fire.

I read this in June 2014 as part of Kate Elliott and Justine Larbalestier’s Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club; find their discussion here: http://www.kateelliott.com/wordpress/?p=1861