Into the Go-Slow is the April 2016 SBC book selection. If you’d like to join the discussion about this or any other of the SBC books, visit our Goodreads group. May’s book will be Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
Angie has just graduated from college, but, still mourning the death of her older sister, Ella, she has no clear plan for what to do next. Her mother is ready to move on, away from a declining Detroit and into a new life, but Angie fears that leaving Detroit means leaving behind memories of Ella. She sets out for Nigeria, hoping to find peace and her own direction by retracing Ella’s steps in the last weeks of her life.
The story of Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett M. Davis is intriguing. As an eldest sister, I find Angie’s difficulty in defining herself separate from her relationship to her elder sisters interesting. I admit, I’ve always been too mired in the responsibility of being the Little Mom to put much effort into imagining what my younger siblings’ experience of me as their Big Sister was. Seeing this experience through Angie’s eyes is an interesting shift of perspective for me.
Another shift in perspective came when Angie arrives in Lagos and experiences for the first time being surrounded by people who looked like her. Of course, I’m not surprised that the majority of people in Lagos are black, but for some reason it really struck me this time just how much I take for granted the experience of being surrounded by people of my own race here in the US. (I think if Angie had been willing to visit Atlanta with her other sister, she’d have had a similar experience of race, but Nigeria’s a much more interesting destination and has the benefit of having a history that feels less personal for someone who’s grown up in the US than the South does, which allows Angie to feel the joy of being in a black culture without the automatic awareness of its history and of the failures of the government in which it exists. She feels this joy and can find out the other stuff later, whereas in Atlanta, her knowledge of the history of the place might have influenced her experience from the beginning.)
I also enjoyed the ways in which Davis juxtaposed the negatives of Nigeria with those in the United States. I particularly smiled at this reference:
“The first time Shagari had gotten into office, the whole thing had to be handled by the military and they used some convoluted vote-counting system that no one could figure out. Court ended up deciding who won the election. Can you imagine that shit happening in the US? Judges deciding who gets to be president?” (276)
Of course, the downside of these comparisons is that I’m already in a fairly perpetually crappy mood about the US, and it really doesn’t help my frame of mind to be reminded that the situation isn’t necessarily any better in most of the rest of the world.
As much as I liked the story, though, Davis’ execution lacked the subtlety I prefer in my fiction. An example, from when Angie first arrived in Nigeria:
“All she had to do was wait, be patient, and Ella would return—as she did back in the old days at the racetrack. Even when Angie could barely see her, a dot on the other side of the stretch, Ella always came back round.” (137)
I want that kind of thing to unfold more quietly and in a way that invites me to put the pieces together myself rather than having them handed to me. Instead the references were direct, the metaphors blatant, and that left me disappointed as a reader.
That said, I enjoyed reading this book, especially the Nigeria half. Davis really did a solid job describing Lagos and Kano. I felt immersed in the heat and the chaos and how they influenced Angie’s frame of mind. I think the book might have been stronger if Ella’s story had been interspersed with the Nigeria parts, but it also might have been more clunky, so I’ll refrain from any more armchair editing.