About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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Category Archives: Creative Writing
A Review: Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah” Audiobook narrated by Janis Ian and Jean Smart
I am a book nerd, a library card carrying, bibliophile. There is nothing more satisfying to me than curling up with a good book. A real book – hard cover, paper back – not an e-book but a book I can hold in my hands, turn a page and place a book mark.
My experience with audio books has been limited to road trips. The story broken up by conversations and sometimes left incomplete when the trip ended before the final CD. I found audio books entertaining, yes, but wondered if they could truly be engaging like a “real” book.
With no road trip on the horizon I settled down in my comfy chair, put on my head phones and popped in the first cd of Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah” to see if this audio release of the 1971 historical fiction could meet my expectations.
Knowing the tale was narrated by legendary singer, songwriter Janis Ian and Emmy award winning actress/director Jean Smart heightened my expectations. My curiosity was also piqued by the strong lesbian theme of this historical fiction.
The familiarity of Jean Smart’s voice as Patience White immediately drew me into the story, welcoming me like an old friend into her parlor to tell me the story not only of these two incredible women but providing a window into a time when women’s lives were governed by a code defined by class and male privilege.
From the beginning Smart’s voice paints a picture of Patience not just her curiosity and her passion but how her beliefs are strongly influenced by the affluence she is born into. She has education and property which both inspires her possibilities but initially restricts her own belief that she can attain her dreams.
Smart so convincingly portrays Patience’s amusement, flirtation, seduction and manipulation of Sarah Dowling that I was at times infuriated by her games while at the same time titillated by Patience’s expression of love, growing passion and those kisses.
With the slightest inflection of her voice Smart is able to seamlessly portray all the characters in Patience’s world not only as an insider sharing religious beliefs, societal attitudes, and expected behaviors but also as an outsider straining at the bits to escape the boundaries of her lot in life.
As Patience’s world expands with Sarah, she continues to provide insight to that other world where even women of her background are seen but often not heard and those deemed of a lower class, male or female, are at risk and/or in peril simply because of their station in life.
Ian’s Sarah Dowling paints a picture of a different world – A harsher world of hard work, duty and resignation to place. Was Sarah’s love for women nature or nurture? The harshness of her world made her “a boy.” It’s just the way it was there was no son in the family, she was big and strong so she became the son – dressing, working being treated like the male child.
Ian’s raspy reading of Sarah helped you visualize this tall woman/boy walking the fine line between the masculine and the feminine. In the phrasing and use of words as Sarah, her family and the world through Sarah’s eyes, you saw a clearly different world.
Her gender, gender identity and class were like a chain holding Sarah down, denying her the possibility of hope for freedom let alone happiness. The times dictated “it was a man’s world” but even after mastering all manly affectations, Sarah Dowling still found herself the outsider ever fearful of discovery of her womanhood not only by the world but by her own heart as well. The only escape was to escape to a place where she could be free.
As I listened to Ian’s portrayal of Sarah Dowling I thought of her song “Society’s Child.” Sarah was not the person singing the song but the person being sung about. Sarah was called by so many names – an oddity, a runaway servant, an abomination, not welcome inside of respectable homes in 1816 society. She wasn’t Patience’s kind.
Did Ian feel the empathetic resonance between Sarah Dowling and the unnamed “other” in her song and see this as an opportunity to give voice to the person she had written/sang about in her 1965 hit?
Miller’s fiction took place in a world that was not fair to the uneducated, poor, women and those otherwise oppressed who historically searched for that Promised Land where they could begin again and find freedom.
“Patience and Sarah” is historic fiction but so much more. Through Patience and Sarah’s eyes we are able to see a world that once existed and, in some ways, offers insight into some evils we are still wrestling with today.
It is also a story of transformative love. Both women evolve over the course of the novel finding new strength because of their love. As much as they change they gain a greater understanding of and are able to adapt the very things that had, at one time, held them down to help them navigate the road blocks and achieve their goal of living free.
And yes, it is a love story that is tender, sensual and passionate with all the ups and downs of any relationship. It’s a story of women loving women in all its complexity, beauty and sweet kisses.
Kudos to Janis Ian and Jean Smart. They took Ms. Miller’s novel and, with their remarkable voices alone, brought not only the characters but their world to life.
I still love a good book but the audiobook of Isabel Miller’s “Patience and Sarah,” available September 15th, narrated by Janis Ian and Jean Smart gave me a literary eargasm of epic proportion. Don’t wait for a road trip to indulge yourself.
My new book of poetry “Three Layers & A Brassiere” is available for purchase online! Book signing is in planning stage but get your’s today and receive a special gift at the book signing.
Book Over view:
On a frigid November weekend in 2012, I took a trip to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My plan had been to catch a train, hit the city and just wander about taking in the sights. I wanted a lost weekend, to wander around to find something—just what I really didn’t know. But these uncertain plans took an unexpected turn when, instead, I hitched a ride with a friend.
I met an amazing woman named Gwen who was in her eighties, and over the course of the weekend, she shared stories of her remarkable life. One afternoon, we were heading out, and her family, being protective as families can be, gathered sweaters, scarves, and jackets and proceeded to try to convince Gwen to put them all on. Her response: “I’ve got three layers and a brassiere, that’s enough to keep me warm.”
On the ride back to Detroit, I thought about Gwen her life and the three stages of life—childhood, adulthood, and those final days. Maybe all we need are those three layers, not all those mountains of things, just to see us through to warm our hearts, our spirits, and a brassiere to hold the memories.
On the 2nd and 4th Friday at the AFF Cafe, Store & More located at 290 W. Nine Mile. Featured artists and an open mic for up and coming artist. Hosted by Michelle Brown and China Palazzola.
By Michelle E. Brown
Her streets no longer lined with trees
Branches arching across streets
Paved with hopes and dreams
Now minefields of disrepair
Potholes, broken sidewalks
Lots and playgrounds strewn with litter
Vacant lots, crumbling buildings
No neighbors sitting on stoops sharing stories
No quartets under streetlamps singing songs
Store fronts sit vacant
While residents wait for buses
Always late for a trip to no where
She is maligned, misrepresented,
Stripped of her authority
As her people suffer
As her people thirst
Managed neglect for the benefit of profits
But she’s a queen.
Her majesty does not lie in institutions
Credit ratings, political wrangling
Her majesty cannot be bankrupted
Because she’s a queen
Of, for and by the people
She is the people
And she/they are rich
Rich in spirit, rich in art
Feeding her people from gardens
Growing in forgotten lots
Entrepreneurs, innovators, dreamers
Calling her people, all people
Black, Brown, White, Young, Old
From across the street
From around the world
To rise up, to stand up
Not in war, but with voices raised
To wage love
She is a queen
She is Detroit.