A world away from Brewster Place, yet intimately connected to it, lies Linden Hills. With its showcase homes, elegant lawns, and other trappings of wealth, Linden Hills is not unlike other affluent black communities. But residence in this community is indisputable evidence of “making it.” Although no one knows what the precise qualifications are, everyone knows that only certain people get to live there—and that they want to be among them.
Once people get to Linden Hills, the quest continues, more subtle, but equally fierce: the goal is a house on Tupelo Drive, the epitome of achievement and visible success. No one notices that the property on Tupelo Drive goes back on sale quickly; no one questions why there are always vacancies at Linden Hills.
In a resonant novel that takes as its model Dante’s Inferno, Gloria Naylor reveals the truth about the American dream—that the price of success may very well be a journey down to the lowest circle of hell.
Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor is a story about cultural/class divide and societal expectations which dictate the lives of the affluent African-American residents of an area called, Linden Hills. These residents live in exclusivity. To live in Linden Hills, you had to have achieved certain standards. To continue living there, these standards had to be maintained. The story is mainly narrated by two young men, Lester and Willie. One of them lives almost at Linden Hills but doesn’t have the stature of success. All that he has is a home on the right address (almost at the gates of Linden Hills but not quite there). The other man lives outside Linden Hills, on the wrong side of town. In the days leading to Christmas, the two mingle with the residents of Linden Hills when they start looking for work in the homes and get a glimpse into the secret lives of these residents.
I liked the development of the characters in this book. Some of their stories were tragic. Others will remain with me for a long time for instance, the gay lovers who had to live a lie to fit into the society. One of them ends up as the best man at his lover’s wedding and gives a toast revealing his true feeling by reading from a poem that only Willie and Lester understand. The author describes the wedding being as sad as a funeral. On the other hand, another resident of Linden Hills buries his wife but the funeral is more like a celebration. It was merrier than the wedding. There is also a white man secretly in love with a black woman but publicly dating women of his own race. Linden Hills is filled with seemingly successful people. However, the secrets and lies behind closed doors tell a different story.
“They all trying to say something with music that you can’t say with plain talk. There ain’t really no words for love or pain. And the way I see it, only fools go around trying to talk their love or talk their pain. So the smart people make music and you can kinda hear about it without them saying anything.”
― Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills
The book tackles various themes including racial relations. What stood out to me especially was the issue of ‘acting white’. It illustrated what success meant to different characters and how others perceived them. It raised the question of what does success mean? Whose standards dictate what it means to be successful? Is the white gaze an influence on what the black people perceived as success? On the other hand, the illusion of a perfect marriage versus what happens behind closed doors was illustrated in the narrative. I liked the fact that at the beginning of the book, there was a story of a married couple living outside Linden Hills. They were poor and the man had a mental problem that caused him hallucinations once in a while. It was a dysfunctional but okay couple. On the hand, in Linden Hills, one of the most successful men in the area had the most disturbing marriages and for most part of the story, his current wife lived as a prisoner. The man still attended the funeral and wedding, keeping up social appearances and making excuses for his wife’s absence.There was also a key theme of gender roles and in specific, the role of different women and where they stood in this ‘image of success. It was interesting how different women were portrayed from the wives, daughters and mothers. There was also a divide between the educated and successful professionals and those who were not and how this affected their relationships with the men.
Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor is a deep, thought-provoking book. However, it is not the easiest read. Naylor’s writing reminded me of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The writing is complex and doesn’t really have a flow. It jumped from one POV to another and tackled various themes at the same time. At some point, it sort of read like a compilation of short stories of different characters. The narration sounds poetic which is not a narrative style that I am used to. However, the book is definitely worth reading. Naylor illustrates how the residents of Linden Hills fought hard to let go of the past that defined them. The ties of slavery were severed only for new forms of self-slavery to emerge. They moved from one master to another. In this case, they were enslaved by their need to achieve high social status and wealth.
“True insanity, as frightening as it might be, gives a sort of obliviousness to the chaos in a life. People who commit suicide are struggling to order their existence, and when they see it’s a losing battle, they will finalize it rather than have it wrenched from them. Insanity wouldn’t permit that type of clarity.”
― Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills
About Gloria Naylor
Born in New York, The United States
January 25, 1950
Died: September 28, 2016
Genre: Literature and Fiction
Gloria Naylor was an African-American novelist whose most popular work, The Women of Brewster Place, was made into a 1984 film starring Oprah Winfrey.
Naylor won the National Book Award for first fiction in 1983 for The Women of Brewster Place. Her subsequent novels included Linden Hills, Mama Day and Bailey’s Cafe. In addition to her novels, Naylor wrote essays and screenplays, as well as the stage adaptation of Bailey’s Cafe. Naylor also founded One Way Productions, an independent film company, and was involved in a literacy program in the Bronx.
A native New Yorker, Gloria Naylor was a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale University. She was distinguished with numerous honors, including Scholar-in-Residence, the University of Pennsylvania; Senior Fellow, The Society for the Humanities, Cornell University; the President’s Medal, Brooklyn College; and Visiting Professor, University of Kent, Canterbury, England. Naylor was the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships for her novels and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for screenwriting.
12 thoughts on “Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor”
I really like the first cover more! I also had to correct myself 3x as I felt like reading it as Gloria Gaynor for some reason ;-). It’s not exactly my genre and I don’t think I’d appreciate the poetic writing as much either, but I’m glad you still found it enjoyable to read! Nice review!
Gloria Gaynor! Now I know why I kept thinking I was messing up the second name. I haven’t hear of Gaynor in years but now, I Will Survive is playing on my mind lol. The poetic/literary writing was complex. I struggle with Toni Morrison’s writing for the same reason. I think that the characters and themes help me get through the book and I ended up enjoying it. Thanks 🙂
Haha that’s going to be for the rest of the day now.. First I was afraid, I was petrified.. :-).
You have me curious about this one. But I don’t know, now I don’t have a lot of patience and if I struggle with the pace, I end up DNFing… LOve the cover and the setting ❤
Yeah I liked the setting and the cover too. I haven’t read many books set in the 80s so I liked that. Actually the pace is okay, things keep moving and a lot is happening. However,the writing is what I struggled with. I don’t know whether its literary or poetic but it was just a little complex for me.
Ah, I get it. I’m reading now that’s feeling similar to that
I read Naylor’s Mama Day when I was in high school YEARS ago, and it was very good – it had a lot of magical realism elements to it. I should reread that as a matter of fact!
Despite liking it, I never read any of her other books. This one sounds much more realistic than Mama Day. I enjoyed your review, Diana!
Thank you Laila. I have heard about Mama Day though yet to read it. Based on your comment and intention to reread it, I may just pick it up soon. I hope that you will enjoy this one if you get a chance to read it.
It sounds like this book was set in the 1940s based on the way they are so focused on what it means to have “made” it and the secretive relationships the characters have. Many people would get married and carry on just like they hadn’t because society restricted so many types of relationships.
From the book, I got the impression that the characters were able to achieve the exclusivity of a prestigious neighbourhood like Linden Hills only after the 1960S due to the oppression that was there in the previous years. The characters do mention the civil rights movement but in the past tense. The relationship issues were mainly based on class. Like the white guy afraid of dating the black woman in public was mainly because the woman didn’t live in Linden Hills and didn’t have ‘class’. Your comment has made me curious about the 1940s. I haven’t read any books set in that area with African American protagonists.
Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man would be a great place to start.