Gray's debut, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, has generated significant (mostly positive) buzz among readers in the last few months. It was formally published two weeks ago and marketed as, "American Marriage meets The Mothers" (for those unaware, I have deep admiration both Tayari Jones and Brit Bennett). So...I ran out to Magers and Quinn to spend $23.00 on this (I know, I'm weak).
This is a complex, family drama chronicling various fractured relationships within a black family living in small town Michigan. The Butler siblings (Althea, Viola, Lillian, and Joe) congregate at the family's old house as the eldest sister, Althea, and her husband, Proctor, are charged with defrauding their community (Gray doesn't really flesh out the motives behind their crimes, which bothers me throughout the book). When Althea and Proctor are sentenced to spend years in prison, their "troubled" (traumatized) teenage twins, Kim and Vi, are left to live with their aunts, Viola and Lillian. These middle-aged women are dealing with their own smattering of unresolved issues related to disordered eating/OCD/PTSD and are less than fully equipped to raise their struggling nieces.
Gray's debut features a marriage interrupted by a prison sentence (as in Jones' American Marriage) and muses on the nature/ purpose of parenthood (as in Bennett's The Mothers). I can't say that I liked it as much as either of those books. The plot feels scattered and the characters feel somewhat superficially sketched. There are aspects of the book that should have been fleshed out (Viola's disordered eating stuff/ Lillian's OCD/ Joe's abusive tendencies/ Kim's self destructive personality). Instead, I was left guessing as to characters' motives, choices, and feelings. I didn't feel a pull to keep reading this...That said, this is a solid debut from a talented African American voice in the writing community. I will certainly buy her next books.