Like many sitcoms, this novel balances lightness, humor and love with moments of darkness and even horror, as we glimpse the magnitude of Bonnie’s obsessions and vulnerabilities. We worry about the main character, even though we sometimes fear her.
This novel deals with the ways in which trauma can undo, destabilize and even erase a life, but can also come across as generally recognizable. Bonnie longs to “break the seam between sick reality and my favorite fiction, stepping on and stitching the hole behind me.” Who among us has never longed to escape to a TV show, a movie, a written story, to live in it at least temporarily? Wonderfully strange and beautifully written, ‘One’s Company’ is a joy to read.
In 1999, 12-year-old Fe Fe lives on Chicago’s South Side in the Robert Taylor Homes, the now-demolished public housing project where Toya Wolfe, the author of LAST SUMMER ON STATE STREET (212 pp., Morrow, $27.99), also grew up. Fe Fe has three good friends, Precious, Stacia and Tonya, who play doubly Dutch with her in their “drug and gang-ridden neighborhood” until one summer they “disappeared one by one.”
This is a story of children living in the projects and having to grow up too early. Fe Fe tells what it feels like to be born on the fringes of society and to be abandoned by it. The buildings’ 16-story walls, with their iron gates “running the length of each floor,” are like divisions between abundance and poverty, opportunity and lack thereof.
As Fe Fe’s childhood friends fall like they’re jumping rope, so does her 16-year-old brother, Meechie. One night, he is strangled in his bedroom by the police during a random, routine cleanup of their neighborhood, and thrown in jail. He is innocent of any wrongdoing, but “he was black and a boy, and to the police, that fit the description of a criminal.” At the police station with her mom, Fe Fe stares at the police and thinks, “This behavior, breaking into and dragging someone’s house, is how lynchings were carried out.” She thinks of how her ancestors, “Grandma’s brothers and uncles, left the house in the same way, some never found, others found swinging on trees or in pieces in a river.” After a few hours they bring Meechie home, but the damage is done: he has lost hope. Soon he finds himself in a gang, dealing drugs and taking to the streets.
Wolfe shows us Fe Fe’s still-tender, childlike spirit: the schoolgirl’s self-awareness, how “when I needed a hug, I got lost kissing Mommy’s stomach.” And yet she admits that as a black child she is denied a claim to innocence: “From the moment we are born, some people start putting a clock on how long it takes the boys to commit a crime, the girls to seduce. ”