Deesha Philyaw’s collection of nine short stories about Black women gives insight in a life behind closed doors, rules unknown to many of us, a secret double life nobody sees or wants to see. The book was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction and was awarded, among others, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Los Angeles Book prize. All stories centre around Black women and Christianity highlighting contradictions and hypocrisy and also a group of women who accept their place given to them by powerful men. They all endure the double discrimination of being Black and being a woman – until they don’t anymore.
What most women share is the fact that they lead a kind of double life they are forced into. For the outside word, they dress decently, lead a God abiding life, do not speak up and care for their children. Yet, at home, behind the closed door, among themselves, they speak freely, they know that even the clergymen have bodily needs they fulfil. They are not perfect, often far from, but they try to make the best of it and teach their daughters what they need to know about life and its double-standards.
The variety of women we get to know is large, from homosexual spinsters still searching for husbands, over half-sisters mourning their always unfaithful father, to a young girl who finally comes to understand that how easily you can be trapped in a situation where wen exert power over you and your body.
The author captures the decisive moment when desires and religious rules collide. They need to cope with contradictions, build their lives around it, always threatened by the verdict of the public and the parish. They are never free, not even those who try to flee from the south, who work and study hard for a better life – ultimately, it all comes back to them.
The tone is funny at times, desperate and harsh at others, always reflecting the characters’ moods on the one hand, which, on the other, will often not leave their house or even their body. The collection shows a life hidden, a life in the shadow of big and strong men, a life worth narrating.