A Writer Reads: “Another Good Loving Blues”

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT for Arthur Flowers’ Another Good Loving Blues

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“I am Flowers of the delta clan Flowers and the line of O Killens—I am hoodoo, I am griot, I am a man of power. My story is a true story, my words are true words, my lie is a true lie—a fine old delta tale about a mad blues piano player and a Arkansas conjure woman on a hoodoo mission. Lucas Bodeen and Melvira Dupree. Plan to show you how they found the good thing. True love. That once-in-a-lifetime love.”

“And on that progressive note they walked hand in hand off into the wooded sunset. I’m told they made a good team, I’m told they made a good life together. Now I’m not saying they didn’t have their share of life’s little trials and tribulations, and your definition of happy may be different from mine, or theirs, but my understanding is that Melvira Dupree and Lucas Bodeen found the good thing.

“And they lived happily ever after.

“The end.”

From the first and last pages of Arthur Flowers’ Another Good Loving Blues, 1993

My Honors class, “Voices of Mississippi,” just finished Arthur Flowers’ book, and a question posed to us in class last Thursday asked about the abruptness, even almost absurdity, of an ending like that. Is the narrator reliable? Did Lucas and Melvira live happily ever after? Why wrap it up that way, why the last two lines, why?

Why, indeed.

Samantha doesn’t believe they lived happily ever after, because love is just not that simple, and throughout the book the characters’ relationship wasn’t simple. “It’s too Hollywood,” she said. I see her point.

I believe they did have their happily-ever-after because that’s what I want to believe, and that’s what the narrator implies, no matter how reliable he is or isn’t. Because sometimes a reader just wants a happy ending, and since one is given on the page, what’s wrong with that?

The rest of the class didn’t voice specific opinions, and there was a lot of back and forth, and a lot of trying to dig into the text in other places, and most of what was said wasn’t important enough to stay with me.

But…from a writer’s perspective…whywould Arthur Flowers wrap the story up in this way? What does it even mean?

On the surface level, I think Arthur Flowers believed that Bodeen and Melvira had their happily ever after. We actually briefly video-chatted with Mr. Flowers in class last week, and I just realize now, I should’ve asked him myself. But I didn’t. But…I think he ended the story that way because for him, it was true. And I think he ended the story that way because that’s how he intended to do it.

Maybe he ended the story that way to make people like me and my classmates debate about why he ended the story that way.

On a slightly-below-the-surface level, I think Mr. Flowers wrote those last three paragraphs the way he did because that was the only way he could do it, as in how I was told, “Let the story go where it wants to go.” I think he wrote it because that is how the story wanted to be written in the end, and if you don’t know what I mean by that, then, sit down at a keyboard and see what comes out of you. When you weave words together into a story with no step-by-step-detailed plot plan in mind, then that is letting the piece write itself, and that tends to be the best way to write something, to get it out on the page before you can go back to edit and revise. I don’t know whether Mr. Flowers edited and revised this story—he probably did, but even if he didn’t, to keep that ending has to mean, in some way or other, that it’s the ending the story wanted for itself, therefore, the only right ending.

But I’ll still let Mr. Flowers be the judge of that.

Personally, if I were writing the story—no, I probably wouldn’t have ended it quite the same way, and that can be attributed to my style of writing. I’ve never read anything else by Arthur Flowers, so I wonder too if this is his style. That can also be part of it.

I should’ve asked him.

It’s a good book, and I do recommend it. If you decide to read it, please, check back in with me here and let me know what you think of the ending. Do you believe it?

Emmaline

I promised earlier a snippet of “Emmaline,” one of my short stories, and invited you, dear reader, to see if you could pull out the line from which came my muse. Yes, it’s in the story, so no, you don’t need to pull anything from thin air. The answer lies before your eyes.

“Emmaline”is my own piece, written as part of my portfolio application to the University of Houston’s undergraduate Creative Writing program, and is excerpted below. (I’m very pleased to share that I was accepted.)

I welcome thoughts and feedback, so please, don’t be shy.

Your task now is to guess the line in this excerpt in which the muse for this story is hidden. Good luck!

Emmaline

“Emmaline.”

Slowly, the girl raises her head and lifts her paintbrush from the canvas. Blue paint drips to the dark wood floor, and the matron standing tall in the doorway purses her lips in disapproval. “Emmaline, it is past time for tea. As soon as you have made yourself presentable, you may join your father and mother in the sun parlor.”

The woman swishes away in a swirl of dark blue taffeta, the door left open behind her so that she may hear whether the brushstrokes resume, and Emmaline rests the paintbrush on the canvas stand and eases herself down from the stool. In the bathroom, over the porcelain basin, she washes the paint from her hands, and the blue swirls down in ribbons like the blue blood that would bleed from her veins. Reflected in the mirror, her ivory skin and pale blonde hair resemble exactly that of her mother and father, the incestuous twins. And that of their mother and father, the first cousins. She adjusts the black velvet ribbon that ties back her silky strands. Such blue blood should have rendered her imperfect, but she is perfect.

The witch nurse saw to that.

Finished in the bathroom, Emmaline returns to her bedroom and moves the canvas from the easel to her window cushion so the paint may dry in the dusky light.

The voice returns, commanding obedience: “Emmaline.”

“No, Nurse.”

This time, Nurse closes the door behind her, and Emmaline is not displeased to hear a key turn in the lock. Solitude serves her best.

Next to the antique four-poster bed is an antique vanity, and inside the drawer hides a small journal, bound in the same black velvet from which her hair ribbon is cut. Emmaline lowers herself onto the vanity’s stool, and dips a pen into an ink pot.