Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This was amazing. “You got to go there to know there.”
Our protagonist Janie starts life at 17 with a brief loveless marriage to a good provider to satisfy her grandmother who raised her, but she only starts life for real when she’s pushing 40 and meets Tea Cake.
First, though, she runs off from the first husband to hook up with a big-talking passing stranger who’s going down to Florida to be a “big man” in an up-and-coming colored town. Big man he does become, and makes her the big woman; but that’s not who she wants to be.
After his death, when she’s pushing 40, another stranger appears to whisk her away – another sweet-talker, but this time, not someone who wants to be a big man, just an ordinary man. And at first he thinks he has to keep treating her like the big woman she’s become accustomed to being, but no, that’s not how it is at all. For the first time in her life Janie is loving and being loved, and she’s ready to live life. They move down south to the Everglades, to “the muck”, where Tea Cake is a farm laborer; and Janie dons overalls and works right beside him during the day, and parties with him at night, and thus do they live.
And the lesson is to live, and you can’t explain it or teach it to anyone else, because “You got to go there to know there.”
The writing was constantly blowing me away. Two quotes that I bookmarked:
“When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for others to look at and see, it was nice. The fact that the thought pictures were always crayon enlargements of life made it even nicer to listen to.”
And “It happened over one of those dinners that chasten all women sometimes. They plan and they fix and they do, and then some kitchen-dwelling fiend slips a scorchy, soggy, tasteless mess into their pots and pans.” Isn’t that TOTALLY how it is!