Editorial Review: Afro-Bougie Blues by Lauren Wilson
Afro-Bougie Blues, by Lauren Wilson, is a short story collection that basically requires all the content warnings: domestic violence, rape, addiction, abortion, and abuse. But there’s never anything gratuitous in this moving collection. Instead, each story looks at how well-developed characters are coping with what they’ve experienced.
In one story, a woman struggling to conceive a much-wanted baby looks back on an abortion she chose to have when she was a teenager. In this thoughtful and thought-provoking story, she considers who she was as a teenager, and how that choice is both a tragedy and another step along the path that led to who she is now: married, successful, and ready on all levels for motherhood. This is what I mean by the content warning. There’s nothing gratuitous or thrown into the book in order to shock readers, but readers, especially readers with similar traumas or similar experiences, may want to go into this book forewarned.
These twelve stories in Afro-Bougie Blues are fresh and original looks at universal questions of love and loss. Every day families face tragedies or readers meet individuals at a personal crossroads. Characters are often tested by heartbreak, loss, or the smaller disappointments of our lives, and some characters face dark, tragic events, but the overall feeling of this book isn’t depressing. These blues are relatable experiences, and through their setbacks, many characters are shown gaining strength from loved ones and making interesting personal discoveries. Warm, supportive friendships and quiet inner strength connect some of the short stories.
The challenge in any short story is developing full, human characters in such a limited space. Wilson succeeds here and brings complicated families and warm friendships to life in just a few pages. In a few cases, readers will see a conflict but still find themselves nodding along with characters on opposite sides. In one story, a married woman begins a queer affair that changes her outlook on love and life. Discovering this new side of herself brings light and joy into her everyday life, even deepening the understanding in her marriage and with her children.
In another story, a habitual cheater faces the horrible consequences of his actions, forever. His irresponsibility catches up with him in a meaningful, dark way that can still never make it right for his children. The author never shies away from showing a character’s raw emotions. She shows our likable characters making mistakes, sometimes at great cost, and she brings out a sympathetic hint in the more unlikable characters, too.
There are no recurring characters in this collection and the setting and mood change in each story. It’s suitable for reading with breaks between the stories since each one stands alone. I found one story, Transformations, slightly flat. I was unsure what the epistolary format or even the secondary character Cecilia added to the story of Bebe’s reinvention. But in a collection of a dozen short stories, eleven unique and moving stories is a pretty great ratio.
Overall, Afro-Bougie Blues is a solid short story collection of memorable characters facing love and loss.