By Nafissa Thompson-Spires
$23.00 / $32.00 Canada
So what do you think?
For sure, you’ve got opinions. You know what you like and what you don’t like. You have ideas and choices, attractions, and things you’d just as soon avoid. And sometimes, as in “Heads of the Colored People” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, you just don’t know what to think.
For weeks – ever since he found a used paperback by James McCune Smith – Kevan Peterson had been thinking about a project. He was an artist, knew a lot of artists, and he wanted to do a book based on Smith’s words. He thought about it when he spent time with his little daughter and again when he saw an online newsfeed, complete with “chalk outlines.” But there was more to that story…
Lucinda Johnston hoped her daughter, Fatima, might make friends easier at the private school Lucinda paid for. There was one other Black girl at the academy, and Lucinda thought friendship might happen naturally, but that girl was a bully whose mother denied her awful misbehavior. In “Belles Lettres,” the two women square off in writing, though money talks loud. In “The Body’s Defenses Against Itself,” there’s proof that the girls’ friendship wouldn’t have happened as their mothers had hoped. In “Fatima, the Biloquist: A Transformation Story,” you’ll think you know why.
Jilly, on the other hand, could not think of anything but herself.
In “Suicide, Watch,” she couldn’t decide: posting suicidal hints didn’t get enough LIKEs on social media, so maybe it was time to step up her game. She didn’t want to be sick or anything – not like that girl, Fatima, she knew in high school – but she did want more attention. How she was going to get it, well, that was a good question.
And Alma? Alma always thought she’d be a good mother. She was willing to go to great lengths to have a child, but in “Wash Clean the Bones,” worry could get the best of her – and of her son.
You may not know what to think when you first start “Heads of the Colored People.” This collection of short stories initially seems a bit odd, as life meets literature in its opening story and author Nafissa Thompson-Spires pays homage to Smith’s book from the mid-1800s. Indeed, her overall work here is similarly titled to his but the difference between the two is like earth and sky.
These stories glitter, every one of them.
Granted now, some don’t seem to be much more than slice-of-life tales that stop for no apparent reason but that they were done. Fear not: they circle around, and you may meet characters again in a layered manner, like building a sandwich. That’ll make you gasp, and put the book down a minute to catch your breath.
Even so, these stories aren’t for everybody. If you like your fiction tied up neat with a bow, take a pass on “Heads of the Colored People.” If you enjoy tales that play with your head a little bit, though, it’s a book you’ll think is perfect.