Thursday, 1 July 2010

The street (Petry) 200

I love finding VMCs which I have not heard of in a charity shop; it makes me feel like they might be particularly rare, simply because one most often sees Antonia White or Molly Keane or Rosamund Lehman. And when it's a VMC that you don't know anything about - it could be a dud, or one to struggle through, or it might be something really good. The street was a VMC that I hadn't heard of, and it turned out to be absolutely phenomenal.

Set in 1946 in Harlem, it is mainly the story of young Lutie Johnson, a woman who has escaped a broken marriage with her son (she had been working as a domestic in Conneticut, sending home money to her unemployed husband, but left the job when she found out that he had been carrying on with another woman), and finds accommodation in 3 rooms in a house in a neighbourhood in Harlem. But it is also the story of the neighbourhood, or "The street" in Harlem, and the characters who inhabit it. The street itself is extremely bleak; Lutie is nearly raped by her landlord and constantly invited to work in a brothel by another inhabitant of the house. Lutie however tries to hold onto the "American dream" and move beyond all of this; she genuinely believes that she can build a decent life within this sordid environment.

I won't say more about the plot - the ending is sudden, shocking and I found it unexpected. But the book overall was such a pacy read and gave me such a good insight into Harlem in the 1940s that I forgave the book that.

It's been published just once by Virago with an original green cover, although I see from librarything that there are a number of other editions by other publishers, and I hope that if you should happen to stumble upon a copy in a charity shop, you will remember this post and pick it up, or if you don't remember the post, you take a risk on it. Definitely worth it!


  1. Wow, this sounds amazing! Not one I had heard of either. The cover is striking also.

    I do love coming across the lesser-known VMCs and, yes, either finding out that they are hidden gem or something not that special. I simply must keep my eyes wide-open for this one.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Verity. Has Ann Petry written anything else that you may seek out?

  2. Hi Claire - no other VMCs by Petry but she has written a couple of other novels, which also seem to deal with issues of race and class. Not sure I'd seek them out but I'd probably pick them up if I saw them anywhere!

  3. I found this last year in a second hand book shop and read it this year. Absolutely vivid descriptions. A bit grim, but so well written. Even the unfavorable characters I wanted to know more about. So glad you liked it.

  4. another book to add to my wish list...

  5. Oh, I've been looking for this one for ages; I have found one of her other novels (not pubbed by Virago) but am still keen to find The Street and your review has added another layer to that.