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Can't Quit You, Baby (Contemporary American Fiction)

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"It is rare when a book this fine enters the world of contemporary American literature." - The Boston Globe Two women share a Mississippi household for fifteen years, rolling out piecrusts and making conversation. Cornelia is rich, white, and pampered, the mistress of the house, who oversees a seemingly perfect world of smooth surfaces and stubborn silence. Tweet, her hous "It is rare when a book this fine enters the world of contemporary American literature." - The Boston Globe Two women share a Mississippi household for fifteen years, rolling out piecrusts and making conversation. Cornelia is rich, white, and pampered, the mistress of the house, who oversees a seemingly perfect world of smooth surfaces and stubborn silence. Tweet, her housekeeper, is a poor, black, world-weary woman with a ghost-ridden past. As the years go by, Cornelia and Tweet each endure moments of uncertainty and despair; each, in her time of need, is rescued by the other. In the footsteps of Southern writers like Peter Taylor, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor, Ellen Douglas celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit in this story of two women bound by transgression and guilt, memory and illusion, gratitude and love. "Ellen Douglas is not just one of our best Southern novelists. She is one of our best American novelists." - The New York Times Book Review


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"It is rare when a book this fine enters the world of contemporary American literature." - The Boston Globe Two women share a Mississippi household for fifteen years, rolling out piecrusts and making conversation. Cornelia is rich, white, and pampered, the mistress of the house, who oversees a seemingly perfect world of smooth surfaces and stubborn silence. Tweet, her hous "It is rare when a book this fine enters the world of contemporary American literature." - The Boston Globe Two women share a Mississippi household for fifteen years, rolling out piecrusts and making conversation. Cornelia is rich, white, and pampered, the mistress of the house, who oversees a seemingly perfect world of smooth surfaces and stubborn silence. Tweet, her housekeeper, is a poor, black, world-weary woman with a ghost-ridden past. As the years go by, Cornelia and Tweet each endure moments of uncertainty and despair; each, in her time of need, is rescued by the other. In the footsteps of Southern writers like Peter Taylor, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor, Ellen Douglas celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit in this story of two women bound by transgression and guilt, memory and illusion, gratitude and love. "Ellen Douglas is not just one of our best Southern novelists. She is one of our best American novelists." - The New York Times Book Review

30 review for Can't Quit You, Baby (Contemporary American Fiction)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This is the story of the fifteen year friendship between Cornelia an upper middle class white woman and her African American maid Tweet ... two Mississippi women during the 60’s and 70’s. The author, who seems like another character in the story, narrates not only of the fifteen year friendship, but of their own individual lives since childhood and how they come together. A really different writing style then anything I’ve read before.. that and the condition of the paperback I received from a our This is the story of the fifteen year friendship between Cornelia an upper middle class white woman and her African American maid Tweet ... two Mississippi women during the 60’s and 70’s. The author, who seems like another character in the story, narrates not only of the fifteen year friendship, but of their own individual lives since childhood and how they come together. A really different writing style then anything I’ve read before.. that and the condition of the paperback I received from a our inter-library system, made it difficult for me to read very much at one setting, but... so good! Thank you to Diane Barnes for bringing this book to my attention 😊 Two women share a Mississippi household for fifteen years, rolling out piecrusts and making conversation. Cornelia is rich, white, and pampered, the mistress of the house, who oversees a seemingly perfect world of smooth surfaces and stubborn silence. Tweet, her housekeeper, is a poor, black, world-weary woman with a ghost-ridden past. As the years go by, Cornelia and Tweet each endure moments of uncertainty and despair; each, in her time of need, is rescued by the other. In the footsteps of Southern writers like Peter Taylor, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor, Ellen Douglas celebrates the resiliency of the human spirit in this story of two women bound by transgression and guilt, memory and illusion, gratitude and love. "Ellen Douglas is not just one of our best Southern novelists. She is one of our best American novelists." - The New York Times Book Review

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Let me say right up front that this novel is nothing like I thought it would be. I had imagined it to be a story about a black woman and a white woman of roughly the same age who knew each other well and had worked together for years, the black woman (Tweet) and the well-to-do white woman (Cornelia) who employed her. But Ellen Douglas surprised me. She was honest about the repressed rage and necessities of color and class in 1969 Mississippi. This is no feel good story about women who love and he Let me say right up front that this novel is nothing like I thought it would be. I had imagined it to be a story about a black woman and a white woman of roughly the same age who knew each other well and had worked together for years, the black woman (Tweet) and the well-to-do white woman (Cornelia) who employed her. But Ellen Douglas surprised me. She was honest about the repressed rage and necessities of color and class in 1969 Mississippi. This is no feel good story about women who love and help each other. This makes us see the evil and harm of both race and sex relations in not just our past, but what it means even today when we don't listen and at least try to understand. This book gave me something new to think about on every page. I came away seeing just how much black rage has been hard-earned, how much women's rage has been hard-earned, and how much work there is still left to be done. "I can't quit you, baby, but I got to put you down a little while." Willie Dixon, blues singer

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heather Fowler

    I absolutely adored this book because: 1. I read it in one sitting if only because it was so compelling I couldn't put it down, 2. it had me weeping in my apartment at 3 o'clock in the morning and after I read it I kept picking it back up, sighing, feeling weepy again, and then touching the cover as if I was amazed such a small paper thing could give me such an emotional response. It did what great books do: give back a human sense of awe and tell a story so vividly the reader is fully transport I absolutely adored this book because: 1. I read it in one sitting if only because it was so compelling I couldn't put it down, 2. it had me weeping in my apartment at 3 o'clock in the morning and after I read it I kept picking it back up, sighing, feeling weepy again, and then touching the cover as if I was amazed such a small paper thing could give me such an emotional response. It did what great books do: give back a human sense of awe and tell a story so vividly the reader is fully transported. SO GOOD.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I couldn't quit this book ... until about 3/4 of the way in, when the plot started to fall apart and the narrative focused on the less interesting of the two main characters. Still, overall, I enjoyed this mid-1980s novel about race relations in the South and perhaps more importantly -- women's lives and their respective societal roles, during a span of time from the 1920s through the post-World War II era. I thought a lot about "Driving Miss Daisy" and to a lesser extent, "Fried Green Tomatoes" I couldn't quit this book ... until about 3/4 of the way in, when the plot started to fall apart and the narrative focused on the less interesting of the two main characters. Still, overall, I enjoyed this mid-1980s novel about race relations in the South and perhaps more importantly -- women's lives and their respective societal roles, during a span of time from the 1920s through the post-World War II era. I thought a lot about "Driving Miss Daisy" and to a lesser extent, "Fried Green Tomatoes" (both stories set in the South in the same period featuring both black and white characters prominently) as I read "Can't Quit You Baby" (I couldn't help but to wonder if this novel would not be better known if it didn't have such an unfortunate title, which brings to mind for modern readers a memorable quote from "Brokeback Mountain" -- a novella and film worlds away from this one...."Can't Quit You Baby" is a line from a Willie Dixon song and does have multi-layered meaning in the story). Douglas captures each character's voice so well that a reader can vividly see from both of their perspectives as they walk alongside both Tweet and Cornelia during their formative years; the tragedies, injustices and general unfairness for both women is clear. Until about the 75% point, Douglas shows how during the period both Tweet and Cornelia grew up in, women's lives were unfairly influenced by how well they married and how prominently their families stood in the community -- regardless, even, of race or wealth -- very few contemporary novels adequately delve into these topics. I wish Douglas had been able to flesh out those concepts more in the narrative and tie it up better at the end. Still, I think this is an important book under the genre of Southern literature and one that explores racial history in America because it probably couldn't get published today -- the 21st Century's racial and social politics flinch at and avoid historical honesty in books or film. Worth a read for fans of Southern lit.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Breena

    The narrative voice in this novel begins with a truly omniscient, bold, frank, sympathetic and descriptive voice. Characterized by lush language this narrator promises to see and show all. This wise voice creates a distance that allows full honesty from the two protagonists and gives the reader full access to thoughts with even the occasional acknowledgment that some thoughts cannot be accessed — some feelings not entirely known across the divide of race and class in 1960’s Mississippi. This gr The narrative voice in this novel begins with a truly omniscient, bold, frank, sympathetic and descriptive voice. Characterized by lush language this narrator promises to see and show all. This wise voice creates a distance that allows full honesty from the two protagonists and gives the reader full access to thoughts with even the occasional acknowledgment that some thoughts cannot be accessed — some feelings not entirely known across the divide of race and class in 1960’s Mississippi. This graceful, incisive narrative voice is our guide through the turbulence of 1960s Mississippi. This voice is a critical voice, too, examining the storytelling authority of two women who work together. There is no wishful thinking - no assurances that, despite the world of unrest and incivility and racial injustice, things will be fine for our protagonists. No. Douglas says that the life that’s been given to them is the life they’re going to live. And these lives bear scrutiny. Ultimately, these protagonists have nothing to hide. "I can’t quit you, baby, but I got to put you down a little while." This is the Willie Dixon song lyric from which the book's title comes . Douglas uses the blues idiom beautifully. This line then becomes the theme — the comment on the circumstances of the relationship between Black and White people - especially that relationship between black and white women. The relationship between the women is uneasy, unequal, uncomfortable at times, but it is, within the novel’s narrative sphere, an equivalent place. Both of their voices are heard, embedded in the text without quotation marks and embellished with descriptions, attitudes, reactions. Though at times Douglas seems to reach for contrasts in her descriptions of Julia, aka Tweet and Cornelia, she finally relaxes into less sharp contrasts. She allows her SUPER omniscient, companionable though critical third storytelling voice remind us that WE are looking at them, gleaning and sorting and “making up our minds about”, reading while packing our prejudices and, whether or not we have a right to do it, we are making judgements. Perhaps Douglas is making the point that storytelling is all about the judgements we make — the lies, half-truths, omissions, gentle bullshit, embellishments and the hackneyed, racial shorthand we often use when we write. We all bring a bit of that to our stories. The skill with which Ellen Douglas situates her narrative voices in “Can’t Quit You, Baby” is instructive for the writer creating characters with what is understood (by themselves and/or others) to be a different race than the writer. In this case, Ellen Douglas is a white, southern writer. The book was published in 1988. It is worth noting that Douglas does not use the complete the “I” in her title - she does, however, credit Willie Dixon in her epigraph - important that she is not suggesting that this is a folk phrase - but a known lyric, poem, etc. belonging to the authorship of Willie Dixon, bluesman.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rossie

    I loved this novel when I read it maybe 15 years ago. Then, last year, I read that dreadful The Help and picked this up again to remind myself that the mistress-maid relationship can be sensitively-explored and honestly-told. I wasn't disappointed. I'm giving it 4 stars instead of 5, although I don't remember anything that it lacks. If I could, 4 1/2. I loved this novel when I read it maybe 15 years ago. Then, last year, I read that dreadful The Help and picked this up again to remind myself that the mistress-maid relationship can be sensitively-explored and honestly-told. I wasn't disappointed. I'm giving it 4 stars instead of 5, although I don't remember anything that it lacks. If I could, 4 1/2.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trey

    Couldn't put it down. I know it's about two women (one black, one white) living in the deep South during the early and mid-twentieth century and the friendship they accidentally make, but Steele Magnolias it ain't....I was totally caught up in their stories...Highly recommended... Couldn't put it down. I know it's about two women (one black, one white) living in the deep South during the early and mid-twentieth century and the friendship they accidentally make, but Steele Magnolias it ain't....I was totally caught up in their stories...Highly recommended...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Collyn

    If you look up the lyrics to the songs in this book - or better yet, download them and listen to them - you'll get an additional layer of meaning. I really enjoyed it. If you look up the lyrics to the songs in this book - or better yet, download them and listen to them - you'll get an additional layer of meaning. I really enjoyed it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Cornelia Wright O'Kelley is wife, mother; Julia Tweet is her black cook. The novel deals with these two women's stories and how they become friends despite living in 1960s, 1970s Mississippi … about the relationship between Cordelia, a white women of privilege, and Tweet, a black woman, endowed with only personal gifts. Here Douglas enters Cordelia's mind but lets Tweet speak for herself. Though comfortable, this method was also appropriate because, as she explained in a recent interview, "Cordel Cornelia Wright O'Kelley is wife, mother; Julia Tweet is her black cook. The novel deals with these two women's stories and how they become friends despite living in 1960s, 1970s Mississippi … about the relationship between Cordelia, a white women of privilege, and Tweet, a black woman, endowed with only personal gifts. Here Douglas enters Cordelia's mind but lets Tweet speak for herself. Though comfortable, this method was also appropriate because, as she explained in a recent interview, "Cordelia would never talk about her life." Tweet, on the other hand, "deliberately used her stories to establish herself as a person and to call all white people to account." - Cornelia is hearing impaired and chooses to turn hearing aid on or off as she sees fit, but is extremely upset when she finds important family secrets withheld from her. Tweet tells all and calls out Cornelia for pretending to hear when she's pretending to listen - various quotes from different sources

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alexander J

    One of the earliest in a burgeoning tradition of contemporary mistress-servant literature (think "The Help"), I really didn't enjoy this. The middle 150 pages (it's a 255 page book) unexpectedly turn towards the wealthy white woman at the expense of any other characters, as she descends into self-pity and depression. This at the expense of the more interesting storyline. In the end I was disappointed that she did not die, which is a terrible thing to say, but it felt overwhelmingly like this was One of the earliest in a burgeoning tradition of contemporary mistress-servant literature (think "The Help"), I really didn't enjoy this. The middle 150 pages (it's a 255 page book) unexpectedly turn towards the wealthy white woman at the expense of any other characters, as she descends into self-pity and depression. This at the expense of the more interesting storyline. In the end I was disappointed that she did not die, which is a terrible thing to say, but it felt overwhelmingly like this was a book about a woman slowly dying.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Toni Gary

    "Well, I can't quit you, baby. Just now and then put you down awhile." "Well, I can't quit you, baby. Just now and then put you down awhile."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frances

    I really enjoyed every story, my only issue was when I would start to get really caught up in the story, a dramatic event happens and we've moved on to the next story. I really enjoyed every story, my only issue was when I would start to get really caught up in the story, a dramatic event happens and we've moved on to the next story.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julesdalamb

    I found it unique. Enjoyed her writing style.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ashlyn Cartee

    kinda hard to finish, only due to a very complex way of story telling by the narrative that left it hard to keep track. really enjoyed the writing style-

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    This is a different style of writing than I lot a read, and I enjoyed it. I sorta wanted it to be more lesbian than it was, but I think I may have had some weird Brokeback Mountain association with it even though I neve saaw that movie. Story of two woman and how their lives intertwine. Interjections by the story-teller and author added an interesting element. In some ways Ithink of this book in the way that montages happen in movies like what are they really talking about on their dates and how This is a different style of writing than I lot a read, and I enjoyed it. I sorta wanted it to be more lesbian than it was, but I think I may have had some weird Brokeback Mountain association with it even though I neve saaw that movie. Story of two woman and how their lives intertwine. Interjections by the story-teller and author added an interesting element. In some ways Ithink of this book in the way that montages happen in movies like what are they really talking about on their dates and how does one get from this point to another or whatever. This book almost provided an indepth view of the montage...and mad eme realize why they have montages. I liked it, I think others will too. I don't think I need it in my collection but I don't feel dumber for ahivng read it (not always true of the books I read) :)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carolina (bookedforadventure)

    I absolutely adored this book and I don't know how to properly review it. This will not give you warm fuzzies like The Help or the Secret Life. It is not your standard 'White Woman befriends Black Woman in a time of racism' fiction. It's mountains more than that. In my opinion this book exceeds all others that I've ever read, because the relationship between these two is as complex as it should be for it's time, nothing more, nothing less. The author knows these characters inside and out. They ar I absolutely adored this book and I don't know how to properly review it. This will not give you warm fuzzies like The Help or the Secret Life. It is not your standard 'White Woman befriends Black Woman in a time of racism' fiction. It's mountains more than that. In my opinion this book exceeds all others that I've ever read, because the relationship between these two is as complex as it should be for it's time, nothing more, nothing less. The author knows these characters inside and out. They are fleshed out fully as their own people, two women who have endured hardships and tried to be strong in very different ways. The way that you get to know them makes this one of my favorite books of all time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Meg Merriet

    This should be required reading for all the white people who don't support Black Lives Matter. Hell, this should be required reading for white people in general, especially those who don't understand what Stockett did wrong when she wrote The Help. Douglas's metafictional approach draws attention to the unspoken tensions between white women and black women and the complications that arise when a white female writer tries to write a black heroine. The narrative offers hope for the friendship betw This should be required reading for all the white people who don't support Black Lives Matter. Hell, this should be required reading for white people in general, especially those who don't understand what Stockett did wrong when she wrote The Help. Douglas's metafictional approach draws attention to the unspoken tensions between white women and black women and the complications that arise when a white female writer tries to write a black heroine. The narrative offers hope for the friendship between Tweet and Cornelia, but not before exposing all the ugliness that festers beneath the surface. Beautifully written, poignant and eye-opening, Can't Quit You Baby is a stellar work of art.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Julene

    This novel about a black woman and the woman she works for is a telling tale. The white woman is deaf, so really cannot hear what her servant says. The parallel between the two women's lives tells a tale of race in America. This southern writer has captured racism in this book. The ending they begin to blur together in a surreal style that is also telling. I read it years ago, it was the first book of hers I read then I began to read all her others. She is from Mississippi and I believe writes i This novel about a black woman and the woman she works for is a telling tale. The white woman is deaf, so really cannot hear what her servant says. The parallel between the two women's lives tells a tale of race in America. This southern writer has captured racism in this book. The ending they begin to blur together in a surreal style that is also telling. I read it years ago, it was the first book of hers I read then I began to read all her others. She is from Mississippi and I believe writes in an alias because she is telling secrets.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    The lives of a white woman and her black maid in 1960's and 70's Mississippi. The theme is the importance of friendship in facing the difficulties of life. Similar to The Help, but I liked this much more. It felt more real. The lives of a white woman and her black maid in 1960's and 70's Mississippi. The theme is the importance of friendship in facing the difficulties of life. Similar to The Help, but I liked this much more. It felt more real.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I read this book over 15 years ago, so I might give it a different rating if I read it today, but for me it was a good introduction to the complexities of race relations in the south. The book has stayed with me all these years.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie Anderson

    I thought it was good. About the lives of two women from different worlds in the same town.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Vivian Blaxell

    One word: superb.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Drake

    Inspired writing but sometimes confusing because of the change between first and third person narrator.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    well written story of friendship between a white woman and her black servant - the stories they share that begin to connect them until real honesty can be found.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Meg Clayton

    novel

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Cook

  27. 4 out of 5

    Betty Jo

  28. 4 out of 5

    Miranda Permenter

  29. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Minetta

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