I’m so excited to bring in the new year with a review of my latest read Third Girl From The Left by Martha Southgate.
Third Girl From The Left centers around the lives of three generations of African-American women who come to realize that they share more than blood and familial relation as they discover their shared love of cinema is the thread that links their lives together.
Their lives didn’t matter to anyone but me. They were the only parents I knew. But not being able to talk about who they were, acting as if it wasn’t happening, that was the hard part. (p. 182)
Tamara, a self-described “film nerd” has big dreams of becoming a film director with only a small budget to make it happen. Tamara has spent her whole life desperately wanting a family, affection, and a past to help her to decipher the meaning of her current life. When Tamara’s estranged grandmother gets sick, she leaves her job behind and flies from New York to Oklahoma and, with the permission of her family, she uses her ever present video camera to capture their stories.
My mother believed in the power of movies and the people in them to change her life. (p. 2)
Tamara’s mother, Angela, has star-studded dreams so big she can’t contain them in the small town of Tulsa, Oklahoma where she grew up. She moves to L.A to be “in the movies” and meets up with a fellow Playboy bunny Sheila who introduces her to the fast life and stays with her until Angela is forced to slow down and change her wild ways. Angela didn’t look back once she got her first taste of stardom and alienates herself from her family and hometown, which trickles down to Tamera being forced to grow up without the presence of any of her family, besides her mother and Sheila.
There was always this need to do things right, to be seen to be right, never to be too mussed or too loud or too worked up or too anything. (p. 20)
For Angela’s mother, Mildred, life is boring and routine as a housewife and mother. She has everything a woman in her small town could want but she ends up finding what she needs in the most unlikely of places and from the most unlikely of people. Mildred later finds herself unable to deal with her wayward daughter because of the guilt she feels for satisfying those needs.
And there we are. My mother is beautiful and my grandmother is beautiful and I’m beautiful. You see that beauty as it finally is even though no one wants to see it as it is in a black woman in America, not a hoochie, not a ho, not a mammy, not a dyke, not a cliché, just a woman. (p. 268)
And there you have it. This book was amazing. I love everything about 70’s culture so I was super excited reading about the era of Blaxploitation movies and foxy sistas with Afros. The author dedicates a good portion of the book to that era and even manages to squeeze in a guest appearance by Pam Grier. Southgate did a wonderful job of staying true to the time period each character lived in with so many details if felt like I was reading historical documents. The 1921 Tulsa race riots were of particular interest to me since I’m from the area and this book has inspired me to research the incident further.
The major theme in the novel that ties the characters lives together, second to their blood relation, is their love of movies. Mildred used watching movies as a way to escape her mundane life, Angela desired to be in the movies, and Tamara wanted to be behind the camera creating them.
I loved how Tamara filming the women for her documentary made them feel comfortable enough to reveal their secrets to each other which, as a result, helped them to heal. Southgate addresses issues like infidelity, sex and drugs, homosexuality and racism. And I must say she does a wonderful job of fully exploring these themes in only 268 pages.
I was able to relate to each of the main characters and I loved that none of them were perfect. The women had flaws and some of the relationships that were broken were never fully mended in the story…like real life. The author wasn’t afraid to take risks or approach subject matters in depth that others would shy away from and that’s why her characters and story are so dynamic. I can’t wait to get my hands on the other books shes’ written so I can get my read on!
I want to thank Author Carleen Brice who recommended Third Girl From The Left on her blog.