At the dawn of the 20th century, black women in the US were carving out new ways of living. The first generations born after emancipation, their struggle was to live as if they really were free. These women refused to labour like slaves. Wrestling with the question of freedom, they invented forms of love and solidarity outside convention and law. These were the pioneers of free love, common-law and transient marriages, queer identities, and single motherhood – all deemed scandalous, even pathological, at the dawn of the 20th century, though they set the pattern for the world to come. Saidiya Hartman deploys both radical scholarship and profound literary intelligence to examine the transformation of intimate life that they instigated. With visionary intensity, she conjures their worlds, their dilemmas, their defiant brilliance.
Reese nearly had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York, a job she didn’t hate. She’d scraped together a life previous generations of trans women could only dream of; the only thing missing was a child. Then everything fell apart and three years on Reese is still in self-destruct mode, avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men. When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?
In Paradise Block, mould grows as thick as fur along the walls, alarms ring out at unexpected hours and none of the neighbours are quite what they seem. A little girl boils endless eggs in her family’s burnt-out flat, an isolated old woman entices a new friend with gifts of cutlery and cufflinks, and a young bride grows frustrated with her unappreciative husband, the caretaker of creaking, dilapidated Paradise Block. With a haunting sense of place and a keen eye for the absurd, these thirteen surreal stories lure us into a topsy-turvy world where fleatraps are more important than babies and sales calls for luxury coffins provide a welcome distraction. Lonely residents live in close proximity while longing for connection.
Through childhood hopefulness, teenage delinquency, faded first love and middle-aged disillusionment, James Clarke’s extraordinary novel in stories takes us into the Hollow in the Land, a Lancashire valley no longer than ten miles end to end. If you’re born here, you’ll likely spend the rest of your life here, and even those who do make it beyond the bypass often find themselves drawn back. This is a place where the realities of regional decline and political indifference play out in people’s lives: in run-down pubs and sitting rooms, dead-end jobs and black-economy gigs, for-profit care homes, Traveller sites and abandoned warehouses. Clarke’s writing is unsentimental but retains a fierce empathy for the lives it is describing. Through a wide range of characters at every stage of life, Clarke shows us how much of what we become is defined by where we are from.