By Destiny O. Birdsong
355 Grand Central pages. $28.
“No One Has Magic” is billed as a novel, but it is actually three novels, each about a different black woman with albinism in Shreveport, La. All are coming-of-age stories, of the type: Sheltered, 20-year-old Suzette escaping her controlling father; Maple grapples with the sudden and violent loss of her mother; and Agnes, a struggling student, tries desperately to find a way to live on her own terms, rather than one man’s or brutal job market. Rather than overlap, the atlas resonate with each other, allowing Birdsong, a poet, to express an impressive range of points of view. The book also sheds light on the dark corners of a multifaceted city, where headlines like reformation, the precautionary economy, and crime at the human scale.
A prominent source of resonance is Birdsong’s portrayal of the sexuality of her characters: frank, uncompromising, and often amusing. Although Suzette is a virgin, her conversations with her best friend about masturbation and sex are casual and well known – the goal of her own pleasure is given. In one stunning shot, Maple watches the porn film her mother made the year before her death. Watching her perform some sexual acts, Maple was moved by her mother’s obvious joy. “She looks like she has found the sweetness of life,” thought Maple, “something I knew, ever since I saw her on screen, something I had never tasted.” These passages contrast Agnes’ heartbreak; she consents to sex that she finds to be deplorable or undesirable, partly because she is financially dependent on her partner, and because she does not believe she is worthy of any what better. Agnes goes further in her story than the young women, both literally and metaphorically, to achieve a fragile sense of freedom.
Birdsong takes risks with his characters, allowing them to be selfish, angry, violent, helpless, and make mistakes big and small. As a result, they feel idiosyncratic, unpredictable and real like real people, speaking in melodious and completely concrete voices. The magic here is not of the supernatural kind, but of ordinary people’s attention to grace. It’s been a miracle to watch these women unleash their power.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/28/books/review/what-the-fireflies-knew-kai-harris-wahala-nikki-may-destiny-o-birdsong-nobodys-magic.html Black women’s lives, at home and abroad