This collection of short stories by Alice Walker has the ring of truth: every story felt truly autobiographical to me, especially the ones told in the first person. The common theme is women, in particular American women of African descent (the title is a parody of Perry Bradford's You Can't Keep a Good Man Down). The individual stories address a range of subjects from art to sex to love to family and friendship, as well as more politically charged issues like abortion, rape, and pornography. I was impressed by Walker's ambitious choices of subjects, and more so by the fact that she rose to and even surpassed the challenge of each.
"Laurel" and "How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State? It Was Easy" discuss the complexities of interracial extramarital relationships. The latter story and "Advancing Luna --- and Ida B. Wells" address rape and, in the latter, the racial politics thereof. The last three stories in the book --- "A Letter of the Times, or Should this Sado-Masochism Be Saved?", "A Sudden Trip Home in the Spring", and "Source" --- describe the pressures on women of color pursuing higher education and the conflict between that ambition and the fear of assimilation.
My favorite story was "Coming Apart", a "fable" Walker wrote in response to essays by Audre Lorde, Luisah Teish and Tracy A. Gardner. It's the story of a black couple coming to terms with (and rising above) the way American culture is saturated with diseased images and ideals of their race and sexuality, and its effects on their sex life. Originally intended as an introduction to the Third World Women's chapter of Take Back the Night, a book about pornography edited by Laura Lederer, "Coming Apart" was eventually included in that book and published in Ms magazine. as "A Fable". To quote Walker's introduction to the story:
...if I had written "Coming Apart" as a story originally, making up all the parts myself, or choosing my informants, my analysis of the roots of vicious white male pornographic treatment of white women would have been somewhat different, with a longer historical perspective.
While not denying the obvious connections between the lynching of black men and women... and the pornographic abuse of white women, I would have argued that the more ancient roots of modern pornography are to be found in the almost always pornographic treatment of black women, who, from the moment they entered slavery, even in their own homelands, were subjected to rape as the "logical" convergence of sex and violence. Conquest, in short.
For centuries the black woman has served as the primary pornographic "outlet" for white men in Europe and America. We need only think of the black women used as breeders, raped for the pleasure and profit of their owners. We need only think of the license the "master" of the slave woman enjoyed. But, most telling of all, we need only study the old slave societies of the South to note the sadistic treatment --- at the hands of white "gentlemen" --- of "beautiful, young quadroons and octoroons" who became increasingly (and were deliberately bred to become) indistinguishable from white women, and were the more highly prized as slave mistresses because of this.
Although this "fable", "story", "introduction" was itself labeled pornographic and banned temporarily by at least one school district in the United States, I believe it is only by writing stories in which pornography is confronted openly and explicitly that writers can make a contribution, in their own medium, to a necessary fight.
So do I recommend this book? Oh, hell yes. But then again, I feel that issues such as racism, sexism, classism, rape, abortion, poverty, and pornography are things everyone needs to think about all the time, oppressor and oppressed alike (and I don't think anybody is 100% either). With that in mind, I say You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down is great reading---well written and thought-provoking. I for one gotta go find me them Audre Lorde, Luisah Teish, and Tracy A. Gardner essays.