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Even a fickle reader of Alice Walker will find something to admire in The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart
. This tender, elegiac collection of stories is based in part on her early marriage to a white man and her continuing puzzlement at how their connection--once so charmed and resilient--faded to nothing. Looking back at their happy years together in "the racially volatile and violent Deep South state of Mississippi," a place and time in which their union was not only unconventional but illegal, Walker is also led to imagine other, less metaphoric homecomings. After the initial autobiographical story, "To My Young Husband," she turns to a character named Rosa, a novelist like herself, who returns home to the South with her sister, Barbara, after their grandfather's death. Rosa had not made it to the funeral, since news of his death arrived just as she was leaving on a long-planned holiday abroad. Now, belatedly, she has come to gather family stories. But when she asks her Aunt Lily a question, this woman glares back at her with something close to hatred: "I don't want to find myself in anything you write. And you can just leave your daddy alone too." Reeling, Rosa turns to her sister for comfort, but Barbara, too, rejects her with "a look that said she'd got the reply she'd deserved."
For wasn't she always snooping about the family's business and turning things about in her writing in ways that made the family shudder? There was no talking to her as you talked to regular people. The minute you opened your mouth a meter went on. Rose could read all this on her sister's face. She didn't need to speak. And it was a lonely feeling that she had. For Barbara was right. Aunt Lily too. And she could no more stop the meter running than she could stop her breath.
With her characteristic insight and her slow, colloquial prose--seeded with anger but watered with hope--Walker explores the territory of her own broken heart and those of African Americans of her generation. --Regina Marler