Women’s relationships have been a big theme for my reading this past year–I know, so original, right? Elizabeth’s Cox’s Night Talk wraps the relationships between four women around the civil rights era in Georgia to highlight the way in which the personal is political and the political has to be personal. This message seems particularly apt in an era when too many Americans feel the problems are too big and their own power too small to effect change. Evie and Janey live in the same house and sleep in the same room, but Janey’s mother cooks and cleans and Evie’s mother pays her wages. Evie can go inside all the stores in town; Janey cannot. The story starts with the death of Janey’s mother and moves between past and present to illuminate how yesterday shapes today and how misundertandings can create alternate futures.
Evie’s father leaves when she is young and is largely absent from her life. The letters she writes to him are heartbreaking in an age when divorce is so prevalent that most children probably have their own versions of these letters. Janey’s father is gone and later we find out he was killed as a result of shady dealings. Janey’s older brother is a war hero whose sense of racial justice was spurred by his service to his country. His community cheers him, then murders him for not coming back the same boy who left. Evie’s brother has polio and survives with a limp. Janey is punished for her brother’s political activism and a rift begins between the two girls that Evie only comes to understand as all of the characters reassemble for Janey’s mother’s funeral.
Man’s inhumanity to man and particularly savage inhumanity to women broke my heart, but the love of the women in the story, Evie and Janey and their mothers, gives a sign of hope.