Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bookworm: Floating

Floating: A Novel
by Nicole Bailey-Williams

Reading a well-written novel is like having great sex.

First, there is the thrill of discovery. You see the book on the shelves, admire the cover and caress the spine. Then, foreplay: the quick read in the bookstore, or on the train ride home. Once comfortable there, you mix a cocktail, adjust your mood lighting and find a comfortable position. Now you’re ready to devour the pages with the intensity of sexual intercourse, reading fast, slow, sighing, laughing, crying—and using the help of whatever “toys” you may need, like music, iPod, or television. Finally,the feeling of completion is exhilarating. Not as intense as the orgasm, but more satisfying than some sexual encounters.

Floating is one of those novels. It's a slim, short volume that weighs heavy with sensual and stunning imagery.

The sophmore effort of Nicole Bailey-Williams updates the classic tale of the tragic mulatto. Shanna Washington is a young bi-racial girl, and the product of two disparate Philadelphia environments. Her white mother is from one of the Main Line's finer families, a socialite with an Ivy League education. She later left Shanna’s black father, who was from the gritty streets of North Philly. He loves his daughter, but has a weakness for whiskey and women. At an early age Shanna discovers she doesn't fit in either world:

As the years passed, loneliness became my friend, and I wrapped it around myself because it felt familiar, thus secure. While my peers laughed with each other at lunch, I amused myself. While they confided secrets in each other behind cupped hands, I poured my secrets into my own heart. The loneliness hurt, but it was all I had. I could complain to no one. I swallowed down bile that was mant to be pucked up, and in my tan body, the pain was buried.

Bailey-Williams' prose is concise and evocative. She alternates between poetry and narration to create a surrealistic longing. There is no question that she is a fabulous writer. I drink her words like a thirsty man cups water; you are compelled to savior their texture, and admire how they feed the soul.

The narrator's tale is in short lyrical chapters—sometimes, only a page or two long. Shana seeks acceptance–and validation–from white and blacks who only turn her away. As a mulatto woman, she faces many obstacles, and even heartbreak. That was in college, a romance with a handsome track star.

My breath was caught in my chest as I watched the northbound specimen in admiration. His white tank top seemed all too stingy in revealing his glowing bronze skin.

The violent affair pushed Shanna back into the arms of the mother who abandoned her years before. There is closure, which eases Shanna's suffering, and allows her to move forward.

Floating is a wonderful novel. It's neatly divided into three sections, which explore identity, healing, and self-acceptance. Nicole Bailey-Williams has penned a provocative, haunting novel that re-affirm faith, renewal and self-discovery.