Like many sitcoms, this novel balances levity, humor and love with moments of darkness and even horror, where we glimpse the extent of Bonnie’s obsessions and vulnerabilities. We worry about the protagonist even though we sometimes fear her.
While touching on the ways trauma can unravel a life, destabilize it, and even erase it, this novel can also feel broadly relatable. Bonnie longs to “break the line between sick reality and my favorite fiction, to walk through and stitch up the hole behind me”. Who among us has never wanted to escape into a TV show, a movie, a written story, to live there at least temporarily? “One’s Company”, deliciously strange and beautifully written, is a pleasure to read.
In 1999, in Chicago’s South End, 12-year-old Fe Fe lives in the Robert Taylor Homes, the now-demolished public housing project where Toya Wolfe, the author of LAST SUMMER ON STATE STREET (212 p., Morrow, $27.99), also grown. Fe Fe has three close friends, Precious, Stacia and Tonya, who play double Dutch with her in their “drug and gang infested neighborhood”, until one summer, “one by one they disappeared”.
It is the story of children who live in the projects and who must become adults too soon. Fe Fe tells what it feels like to be born on the margins of society and to be abandoned by it. The 16-story walls of the buildings, with their iron gratings “running the length of each floor”, are like divisions between plenty and poverty, opportunity and lack of opportunity.
As Fe Fe’s friends let go of their childhood like giving up on a jump rope game, so does his 16-year-old brother, Meechie. One night, he is smothered in his room by the police during a random, routine sweep 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 looks at the cops and thinks, “This behavior, breaking into someone’s house and dragging them away, that’s how the lynchings were carried out.” She thinks of how her ancestors, “brothers and grandma’s uncles, left home the same way, some never found, others found dangling from trees or falling apart in a river.” After a few hours, they bring Meechie home, but the damage is done: he has lost hope. Soon he is in a gang, dealing drugs, leaving home for the streets.
Wolfe shows us the still tender, childlike spirit of Fe Fe: the self-awareness of a schoolgirl, how “when I needed a hug, I lost myself in the pillow of Mommy’s stomach.” And yet, she recognizes that as a black child, she is denied to claim her innocence: “From our birth, some people start timing how long it will take for boys to commit a crime, for girls to seduce. .”