Recurring Characters

As I have been reading through several of Cleage’s novels, starting with What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day and recently finishing Babylon Sisters. I was amazed and slightly caught off guard when characters from prior novels kept recurring. Crazy and I Wish I Had a Red Dress use a prominent character in both novels. Additionally, Some Things I Thought I’d Never Do and Babylon Sisters are set in the same time and place but centralize on different characters, additionally characters from Some Things appear in Babylon. Even more so, you can find some of the same characters reappearing in all four books! Then I was even more pleased that Cleage feels it to be completely natural for many of her characters to live in the same world. Cleage comments on her recurring characters below.

“I struggled with whether it was fair to work with the same characters. You have all these arbitrary rules as a writer, like it’s cheating if you go back to the same characters. But I finally realized I don’t believe any of it. If there’s a story there, it should be told. I feel that there is a third Idlewild book, I think it has to do with the little girl, Aretha, who was in the first book. I think that she has a story to tell. I think that black women readers particularly enjoy encountering the same character. I like Valerie Wilson Wesley’s books because I like her character Tamara Hayle. As a reader I like to go through time with these characters. But as a writer the challenge is not to repeat yourself, to let each book stand on its own.”

-Cleage in an interview

I completely agree with Cleage’s comment “As a reader I like to go through time with these characters”. Though there are instances in which it is nice for the character’s lives post-novel to be left up to the imagination, as in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). The manner in which Cleage approaches it feels like running into an old friend on the street, an unexpected, yet pleasant surprise.

3 Responses

  1. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  2. What in particular is it that you don’t agree with? Can you provide clarification?

  3. I don’t necessarily agree with you Sarah, the ex-patriot mother in Babylon Sisters and the same one in Hospice. I personally didn’t like the idea. I felt a little cheated. Only because I was expecting these stories to be different, now, if they were continuations of the original story then that wouldn’t bother me one bit. Maybe they are and I just missed the connection. However, that completely turned me off of her work after reading the characters and they were all the same. Am I wrong for that? I sometimes felt like the situations were the same; the ex-patriot shuns her lover and keeps the identity of the child’s father a secret in both Babylon and Hospice felt too familiar. I used to really enjoy her plays, but became a bit disenfranchised after reading similar stories. I think the stories should grow and even if the character is similar, it shouldn’t be the same story.

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