The Men of Brewster Place
The Men of Brewster Place is Gloria Naylor's companion piece to 1980's acclaimed novel The Women of Brewster Place. Returning to the same dim block of city tenement housing, Naylor focuses on the black men of the struggling community with a spirited sensitivity tempered by her penchant for sociological realism. Each chapter highlights the life of one man, and all are introduced with lengthy quotes from The Women to set context and tone.
There is Ben, the alcoholic superintendent whose Sisyphean task it is to piece together the failing architecture and cramped households of Brewster Place. There's Abshu the Afrocentrist who launches an outrageous smear campaign against an Uncle Tomming politician, and Eric, the gay dockworker who suffers family breakup and the death of a child. Naylor's talent is that she elicits robust characterizations from material that could easily fall into the snares of sentimentality. Her men are flawed, multifaceted gems that sparkle and cry.
The Brewster Street milieu has clearly been grandmothered by Ann Petry's 1946 novel The Street, a seminal work of African-American naturalism, although Naylor's network of vignettes offers glimpses of possible change that were absent in Petry's examination of the plight of poor urban blacks.