Drinking Coffee Elsewhere Review

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
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Drinking Coffee Elsewhere ReviewZZ Packer's masterful stories deal with the crisis of belonging that many African-Americans face because, as individuals, people of all races, including their own, have monolithic expectations of them, which their individuality defies. Packer's characters break out of any kind of preconceived molds and faced with Groupthink, pressures to conform, and the patronization and condescension of liberal whites, these characters become infuriated by the stupidity that surrounds them. The style of the stories is intensely realistic, often satirical, bitter, nihilistic. At the same time Packer brings a deep humanity, complexity, and sympathy to her cast of misfits, all who search for belonging and never find it.
In "Brownies" African-American girls stir a brouhaha with a dubious charge of having heard a racial epithet uttered by the white Brownies. The story in many ways is a funny and disturbing exploration of Groupthink whereby the black Brownies never really heard the epithet but get caught up in the self-righteousness and mission of their revenge. In "Every Tongue Shall Confess" a cross-eyed, homely lady, Clareese, plays by the rules, reads her Bible, and works hard as a nurse, only to be exploited by her church deacons who use her as a door mat. We cringe as we watch Clareese sink deeper and deeper into loneliness. In "Our Lady of Peace" a young woman takes on teaching in a public school in order to change nihilistic, lawless high school children, but in a reversal, the children make her a nihilistic misanthropist. The teacher Lynnea Davis not only begins to despise the children, but the teachers she works with. In the "Ant of the Self" a precocious teenage boy named Spurgeon must face the dilemmas of having an alcoholic bully of a father who drags his son to the Million-Man March where Spurgeon, the innocent party, is berated by rhetorically-inflamed black men to respect and love and appreciate his father for taking him to such a great event when in fact his hustler of a father simply took him to the march in order to sell a bunch of stolen exotic birds. In "Speaking in Tongues" a young girl runs away from home where her overly pious aunt subjects her to the abuses of a dysfunctional, abusive church. However, running away to Atlanta to find her mother, the young girl discovers that the secular world-full of pimps, hustlers, and libertines-offers no refuge.
For all the diversity of these stories, we can see Packer's general themes-her animosity against Groupthink, her loathing of convenient stereotypical thinking, her objection to the use of religion and false piety in order to bully others, her disdain for the manner in which clichés offer people false solutions and self-aggrandizement. Packer is a major writer tackling major themes and I am eagerly awaiting her next publication.Drinking Coffee Elsewhere Overview

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