ALL THE FEMINIST BOOKS: The Healing by Gayl Jones

This month. we asked our regular contributors to write about the feminist books that they love—books that struck a chord, for one reason or another, books they couldn’t put down, that they’ll never donate, that are underlined and dog-eared and bookmarked eternally, that you can maybe borrow, but you most definitely have to give back. Here’s Naomi on The Healing:


d_cCo003ff1Y4M6KXTXKp48x9Z_XKioeVhpfSyDHh5g,PZXm1Tyd8z9Okw_3_2gHV1uJcqd3Mf6iebfL4miadU0I have always had a sweet spot for stories centered on women with magical powers. I loved watching the show Charmed throughout my high school years and to this day the film Matilda reigns among my favorites. When I read the novel The Healing by Gayl Jones in grad school, finally I understood why I was attracted to female magic on television. It was even more than the power of transformation, agency, and spirit of playfulness that drew my attention. It was the actual healing—these women could fix things including themselves. The Healing follows a faith healer named Harlan Jane Eagleton who, in the tradition of the female blues singer, travels freely across geographic space and narrates her experience along the way. What I find most powerful about this novel is the down-home womanly wisdom that it offers. The Healing is a medley of intergenerational wisdom. My favorite character in the novel is Grandma Jaboti, who creates her own truth around the definition of womanhood. “Ideal of womanhood? Woman’s gotta be her own ideal of womanhood. Can’t depend on a man for it.” These are words to live by. Part of how this novel configures a woman’s healing magic is in her ability to construct and reconstruct truth. I will admit that this novel is not an easy read. It’s written in a stream of consciousness style that I liken to jazz music and is chock full of cultural and literary references. I persevered through its brilliant messiness and found revelation—way more revelation than I get from watching Charmed or I Dream of Jeannie (although I still get a tremendous amount of pleasure from viewing both of these shows). At one point in the novel, Harlan takes the title “The Healing Woman Healed Herself First,” a sharp reminder to us women to care for our own bodies and spirits before attempting to care for others. I especially like that Harlan describes herself as “an ordinary woman,” implying that all women have healing powers. This book is a wonderful lesson of the importance of self love and the womanly power to construct and transform reality.

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