ulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker's writing has a way of creeping up on you, taking you unawares, and affecting you long after you've put the book on the shelf. This collection of short stories, a work of "mostly fiction," begins and ends with semi-autobiographical recollections of a failed yet compelling marriage. Walker pushes us headlong into the difficulties and pleasures of relationships confounded by the frustrations of race, children, and varying expectations of what relationships should be. The movement of the book carries us through several episodes, each inhabited by wounded people who carry the scars, some old and shiny and some unhealed, inflicted both by loved ones and by society.
There is Rosa, a writer misunderstood by and alienated from her family, who is admonished not to put family matters in her writing. But Rosa's curse is "never to be able to forget, truly, but only to appear to forget. And then to record what she could not forget." There are Orelia and John, a couple who, although they understand each other deeply, constantly underestimate each other's ability to forgive. There is Anne, a passionate woman whose "Grandma," the voice of conscience and ideas, brings her closer to herself and others. There is also Girl, who introduces her mother to lesbian pornography and wonders about the intolerance still found in the South. Although not always set in the South, the idea of the South, with its hot steamy summers and underlying violence, provides the sense of place for these characters and shapes their interactions.
These stories offer brief glimpses into lives both familiar and unfamiliar. The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart captures moments of clarity about others and ourselves. Many times this clarity is won with consequences both painful and joyful. We are reminded that life is fragile, but that with love, we can move forward and heal our wounded souls. Walker's dedication, "To the American race," signals hope that we will find the way forward, but a reminder that it will come only after grief and healing.
Kelly Koepke is a freelance writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico.