Naylor's fictionalized memoir full of intrigue, questions: m

-----Original Message-----
From: "Cheryl Welsh"
To: "wladimir lotz"
Date: Mon, 26 Dec 2005 09:51:31 -0800
Subject: update

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

November 27, 2005

Naylor's fictionalized memoir full of intrigue, questions: m

Gloria Naylor, the highly acclaimed author of The Women of Brewster Place, is back.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Sun-Times book editor declined to review her latest work, 1996, because the book was released a couple of months ago.

But I was fascinated by Naylor's subject -- mind-control. And, frankly, I don't think Naylor is getting her proper due. Besides being a major African-American writer, in 1996, she raises some troubling questions about the erosion of freedoms in this country and our government's ability to put someone's life under a microscope.

Published by Third World Press, 1996 is Naylor's first book in seven years.

Although there is considerable confusion over when the manuscript was actually released, an excerpt appeared in Black Issues Book Review on Sept.

1. But for the most part, Naylor's latest manuscript has been uncharacteristically marginalized.

'I am in a battle for my mind'

In a strange way, that marginalization heightens the intrigue.

The fictionalized memoir purports to detail what became of Naylor's life after she moved to a secluded stretch of St. Helena Island. Her intention was to spend a year writing in the serene island setting, plant a garden and spend time enjoying the lifestyle she had worked hard to obtain.

But shortly after moving into her home, Naylor has a run-in with an eccentric Jewish neighbor who "had at least a dozen cats." When "Eunice" refuses to keep the cats out of Naylor's garden, and Naylor ends up taking matters into her own hands, the dispute turns ugly.

Eunice's brother also happened to be the head of the National Security Agency. The bad blood between the women led to Naylor's being investigated as a drug-dealer and labeled as a dangerous anti- Semite. It wasn't long before Naylor discovered that she was being followed everywhere she went. When the harassment became unbearable, Naylor fled her Southern refuge and returned to New York, where the scrutiny escalated into mind-control.

Of course, this is where the controversy comes in. Did the events Naylor described actually happen? Did the writer suffer some kind of nervous breakdown?

"I didn't want to tell this story. It's going to take courage. Perhaps more courage than I possess, but they've left me no alternatives," Naylor writes at the beginning of her book. "I am in a battle for my mind. If I stop now, they'll have won, and I will lose myself."

A run-in with a neighbor

After giving readers the bare bones about her beginnings, Naylor shares a place that was to be her slice of heaven, but ultimately became her piece of hell.

"I would sit at a folded table in the sunroom that gave me a view of the water, drinking my morning coffee in a pink mug that said 'Hers' in blue lettering. That table, with its one chair and that mug, were my only possessions besides a trailer camping bed that I picked up secondhand. But this, indeed was mine. I looked over at the plantation house and thought about how things had come full circle. My people once worked this land as slaves, and here I was, owning part of it."

Later, after the run-in with the neighbor, Naylor describes a fictitious telephone conversation her neighbor had with her brother:

"What is it, Eunice?"

"Orwell is dead. My baby is gone."

A cat, he thinks. She's calling me about a damn cat. "Sorry to hear that, Eunice. Was it a peaceful death?

"He was poisoned."

"How do you know that?"

"I had an autopsy. It was rat poison. Gloria Naylor killed him."

"Who's Gloria Naylor?"

"A woman who lives across the road from me."

"And how do you know she did it?"

"Because she hated my cats. She told me so. And she hates me, too, because I'm a Jew."

Exorcising demons

Of course, that conversation is fiction because the only thing Naylor knows for sure is what she claims happened to her. She could only speculate about the motivations, as well as the power of people who could invade a life to the degree they invaded hers.

The author understands that some people will simply think she is using her writing to cover up a nervous breakdown.

"I can't worry about that," Naylor said during a recent telephone interview.

"With my entire career, I try to do the best that I can and leave the rest to the reader. It is just like child abuse. There are some people, when the child comes to them and says 'Uncle Johnny did X, Y, Z,' there will be some parents who will not believe the child, and there is no amount of evidence that will make them change their minds."

Given the continued debate over some provisions of the Patriot Act, Naylor's "fictionalized memoir" raises the right questions at the right time.

Writing the book was a "real catharsis," Naylor said.

"It was like purging. But really, it was no different from the other books I have written in that each of them exorcised from me some sort of demon."

Mind Control


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December 2005

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