Monday, January 14, 2013

The Storytelling of The Wisdom of Hair: And The Power Of It, Too

A pink-bound story of a 1983 Southern woman with childhood of loss and neglect, who attends beauty school because she just wants her life to be beautiful, runs some risk of appearing quaint, in the silly-frilly-negligible sense. Cover praise describes it as “lovely” (Wendy Wax) with a “big, beating heart.” Ann Napolitano continues, “It’s hard to write a book about (mostly) nice people, but Kim Boykin has pulled it off.” I agree with all of this, and I’d like to elaborate, because The Wisdom of Hair is no doily.

Kim Boykin gracefully weaves through the characters' battles withchild abuse, postpartum depression, unexpected pregnancy, sex addiction, drug addiction, widowhood and grief, unrequited love, racism, and alcoholism galore. The nature of its Ever After is imperfectly and unconventionally Happy. It left me with aftershocks for days later.

The ever-vacillating love story defies formula and explores the depths of grief and guilt. An enormous, morally ambiguous opponent -- Zora’s mother -- touches her every decision. She fights for the approval of wicked older women. She attends beauty school; her mother was a Judy Garland impersonator. She falls in love, but is he her mother’s type?  

Beauty does not come hand in hand with shallowness, and I have never read a book that so clearly explained why. Her mother finds inspiration in the beauty of Judy Garland. Zora finds redemption in the respect of the customers she beautifies. Textual elaboration to come.

A quick, powerful conclusion and poignantly tied ends leaves me hungering for more of this story, but I’ll have to settle for Boykin’s next work. 

The Wisdom of Hair comes out on March 3.

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