Heads Of The Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
From a reality tv show that follows a family who only eats fruit, to debating one’s suicide on the basis of how it will be received on Facebook, this collection of short stories touches on every modern issue and does so in a wildly entertaining manner.
While each tale is vastly different from the next, they all share common threads that perhaps are best detailed in the very first story bearing the same title. The opening story is intriguing on its own without the shock at the end, but that’s the point. It would be interesting enough to follow these unique characters pursuing their passions, but ultimately they can’t. The journey ends before we even get to know them because that’s just how life is for many in America. The story doesn’t want to be about violence, but it’s forced to be.
Every story draws a new sketch, yet many overlap – not only in theme, but also with some characters cleverly taking over where others left off.
Every story draws a new sketch, yet many overlap – not only in theme, but also with some characters cleverly taking over where others left off. Thompson-Spires spins this structure in such a spiraling fashion that she catches all of us in this web of comedy and tragedy.
It is difficult to pick favorites, but one that stood out for me consisted of letters exchanged between two parents passive aggressively fighting with one another over their respective daughters. Setting aside the hilarity and the fact that it’s best read while binging popcorn, beneath the wit lies the dark truth that there is so much loneliness and mental illness in plain sight these days that no one truly sees it. What is really driving two mothers to battle one another, or two professors to fight over an office? What’s behind one woman fetishizing men with disabilities to the point of a restraining order or causing another to erupt at minor inconveniences?
Most of the characters throughout this collection seem to want to convey their unique situations without having to trace issues back to race, but it’s impossible not to. Everyone is fighting an internal battle of who they are and who they’re ‘supposed’ to be, that these fights can’t help but spill outward. Each ‘head’ has a history, and even the most reprehensible character deserves our empathy.
Thompson-Spires not only creates such a wide variety of people but manages to seamlessly drop them into scenes ranging from the mundane to the catastrophic, all with poignant and compelling results.