Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Women of Brewster Place - It's a Wrap!

Today it's time for a wrap-up of our most recent Read With Us book group selection — The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.

As the Read With Us group is evolving, growing, and trying new things, we did things a bit differently this time. Kym, Carole, and I each posed different discussion questions on our blogs last Tuesday, and some of you responded that way in the comments. 

Just in case you missed them or would like to review, here are the questions:

Kym asked several thoughtful questions: I'd really like to know what you thought of the book (or the movie, if you watched that). How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserves the attention it got when it was first written? How does it compare to more recent/contemporary novels you've read?

The actual street - Brewster Place - and its wall are like characters, personified. Do you agree or disagree? And would you say the street/wall is a protagonist or an antagonist? And does the street/wall, itself, have any impact on the story or its outcome?

Okay . . . that ending! What do you make of it? It's meant to be Mattie Michael's dream-scene, with the women of Brewster Place dismantling the wall brick-by brick. Does that work for you? Or not?

Carole wondered about these aspects of the book: What do you think of the novel’s structure? How does each woman’s individual voice reinforce the novel’s themes as a whole?

Each of these women is capable of enormous love, but they are often hurt by their loved ones. What do you think Naylor is saying about a woman’s capacity for love? Is this sort of love “worth it”? Would these women be happier if they had hardened their hearts to those who eventually let them down?

Many of these women came from the South and Naylor portrays it as both a land of plenty and a land of harsh deprivation. How are these women’s lives different living in the North–are they happier? more fulfilled? more subject to racial bias? Is there more opportunity for them in Brewster Place than in the South?

I asked just one questionEach of the women in The Women of Brewster Place copes with enormous loss in their lives, but each one of them manages their grief differently. Compare, for instance, Mattie’s loss of her house and her son with Ceil’s loss of her baby. How do the women support one another? What could these women learn from each other? 

(If you click on the link for each of us you will be able to read the discussion in the comments.)

Gloria Naylor

But then at 7:00 pm, Kym hosted a Zoom discussion session for the book. I know Zoom isn't new, but it was new for Read With Us, and I think it went wonderfully. There were seven of us that were able to attend, and that was a great number. Some of us knew each other, some of us did not, but it felt like were all fast friends by the end of the evening. I was a little too anxious and excited to even take a screenshot, but hopefully, this will just be the first of Read With Us Zoom discussions. 

We talked about the structure of the book, how our lives are similar with a sense of community, and how we thought and hoped that things should have gotten better since the book was published in 1983, but sadly they have not in any substantive way. 

We also discussed the ending, and several good ideas helped me to understand it a little bit better. Several of us thought the ending didn't fit very well because the rest of the book was so based in reality, but Karel pointed out that there really was no wrapping up a book filled with so much tragedy in a sweet package. Sarah suggested that racism and sexism were so ingrained in society that they had to be broken down from both sides of "the wall". 

We also talked about how we as white women have access to many more resources (emotional, physical, financial, etc.) than the women in the book, so we could only ever have a limited understanding of what it was like for Mattie to lose everything when her son Basil jumped bail. And then there was the age question. Kym asked Sarah how she felt about the book, given that she was significantly younger than the rest of us. I hadn't even thought about that, but Sarah did say that she had a little trouble placing the story in time and place because she hadn't lived through it. There is nothing like a good "in-person" book discussion to present lots of new and interesting possibilities in a book! (We also got to sip wine together and admire each other's knitting and spinning.)

We have a readers' surprise package and after putting the names of everyone that left a comment and participated in the Zoom discussion in a hat, I chose one and the winner is Patty! Thanks to Patty (your package will be arriving soon) and thanks so much to all of you for reading with us! 

And STAY TUNED for the big announcement of our next Read With Us book selection . . . coming to a blog near you on Tuesday, December 8th!


  1. What a GREAT wrap-up post, Bonny! The Zoom discussion was a lot of fun -- and I hope we can pull it off again for the next book. :-)

  2. This is an excellent summary, Bonny! I very much enjoyed the live discussion of the book (I wanted to say in-person, but Zoom somehow doesn't quite feel like an in-person experience!), and I hope it's something you all will keep as part of the Read With Us program you've started.

  3. Excellent summary indeed! I am excited to see what the new book will be!

  4. Yay me! Thanks for hosting and putting so much into the RWU group. It really is fun and the choices have been wonderful. Looking forward to the next selection.

  5. Great summary, Bonny! I thought our Zoom session was terrific and it made me appreciate the book (and even that ending!) in many new ways.

  6. Looking forward to seeing what the next choice is!!

  7. Bonny, this is a great wrap-up. Even though I have not as yet finished the book, I hope I will. My question of the day is, how are you feeling? I hope you are much better. If you are not, the above post is an impressive achievement! Be well.

  8. Thanks for this great summary! I enjoyed the zoom session and went away with a deeper understanding of certain parts of the book-especially that ending. I look forward to the next book!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the Zoom discussion, Debbie! Now that we've finally taken the plunge, I can't imagine that we'll ever be able to go back to just discussing the book in the comments. I learned a lot, got a lot more insight from the live discussion (especially the ending for me, too!), and thought it was a valuable experience.

  9. It is interesting to wonder is anyone worth this love? I remember my mother, leaning into a bathtub with a cleaner and gloves and rags, and she turned to me and said, "No body is worth this". I learned later that , although, her life looked grand to some, my father was an impossible man to live with. She was stuck by her religion and her lack of confidence , and she felt she had no way out. Im glad you asked all these questions.


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