What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
Now, after more than a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living, Ava has come home, her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits on one dark truth... Ava Johnson has tested positive for HIV.
And she's back in little Idlewild to spend a quiet summer with her widowed sister, Joyce, before moving on to finish her life in San Francisco, the most HIV-friendly place she can imagine. But what she thinks is the end is only the beginning — there's too much going down in her hometown for Ava to ignore. There's the Sewing Circus — sister Joyce's determined effort to educate Idlewild's young black women about sex, drugs, pregnancy, whatever… despite the interference of the good Reverend Anderson and his most virtuous, "just say no" wife. Plus Joyce needs a helping hand to make a loving home for Imani, an abandoned crack baby whom she's taken into her heart. And then there's Wild Eddie, whose legendary background in violence combined with his Eastern gentility has stirred Ava's interest… and something more.
Pearl Cleage is the author of Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth and Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot. An accomplished playwright, she teaches playwriting at Spelman College, is a cofounder of the literary magazine Catalyst and writes a column for the Atlanta Tribune. Ms. Cleage lives in Atlanta with her husband. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day... is her first novel.
If I had to name one book that has had the most lasting influence on my work I would pick The Big Sea by Langston Hughes. An autobiography, the writing is beautiful, personal and very funny, and the adventures are nonstop. Even more importantly, the entire work provides evidence of Hughes' ability to ground himself firmly – lovingly – in his specific African-American-ness and from that base, embrace the whole world.
I was also greatly moved by the amazing love story that is at the heart of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and by the magic that is woven throughout the same author's One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I am also consistently challenged and inspired by the work of Alice Walker, especially The Temple of My Familiar, which expands the boundaries of time and space and love in the most unexpected ways.
It takes talent to make a love story between an AIDS victim and a convicted murderer work, but playwright/essayist Cleage (Deals with the Devil, 1993, etc.) more than meets the challenge in this gutsy, very likable fiction debut. As a teenager, Ava Johnson couldn't wait to move away from tiny Idlewild, Michigan, a lakefront village originally conceived – and enjoyed for decades – as a resort town for people of color. Now just a half-abandoned dot on the map like any other (except that most of the residents are still black), Idlewild offers the only safe haven when Ava, now nearly 30, learns she's contracted the HIV virus and is forced to close down her hair salon in Atlanta. Telling herself she's just visiting her older sister, Joyce, for a few weeks before she moves on to San Francisco, sophisticated Ava (whose voice is always feisty and humorous, even when the subject is death) is nevertheless impressed by bighearted Joyce's efforts to help the teenaged girls in her small community. She's also intrigued by handsome, sexily "together" Eddie Jefferson, a once-wild childhood acquaintance who's returned to Idlewild to raise vegetables, grow dreadlocks, and practice t'ai. While giving support to Joyce as she fights her conservative church for the right to teach birth to adolescents, and assisting (a bit skeptically) when Joyce takes in an addict's abandoned baby, Ava finds herself falling hard for sensitive, nurturing Eddie. Obviously, he's interested, too--but won't he run once he learns she's carrying the virus? Ava hardly dares hope for a final chance at love, even when Eddie reveals his own terrible – and, finally, forgivable – past. Lively, topical, and fantasy-filled. Watch out, Terry McMillan. Cleage is on your tail.