The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
By Deesha Philyaw
(179 pages, fiction, 2020)
This book is spectacular; I devoured it in one sitting and was immediately hungry for more. It consists of several short stories, each featuring a Black girl or woman grappling with something of an existential crisis. As the characters struggle with finding a sense of self, they also must navigate their relationships with others. These relationships may be romantic or sexual, familial or collegial, soul mates or ships passing in the night — and they unfold to varying degrees of messiness. What they have in common is that each character’s experience is intertwined with, and often in conflict with a Church — whether that’s a set of philosophies or a physical congregation. Each Church carries its own set of social mores, threats of perdition, and opportunities for redemption. The tension between the Church’s expectations and the women’s innermost desires creates a riveting and poignant push-and-pull within each character’s heart.
Author Deesha Philyaw did an outstanding job creating characters that feel fully-developed and emotionally raw, even in just a few pages. I was immediately attached to these women with their flaws and vulnerabilities, their lust and yearning, their obligations and indiscretions, their striving to be and to become. It is no wonder that this book was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Awards for fiction. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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Faithe Miller Lakowicz