Gayl Jones is notorious for making headlines; presently she is in voluntary quarantine trying to come to grips with the violent death of her husband, Higgins, her only friend if he can be termed that. Apparently in an abusive relationship with her husband Higgins, Jones had become delusional and had ceased to recognize the fine line between art and life, and "It was not just life imitating art; it was that Jones and Higgins were united in the conviction that a racist society had doomed them to repeat the violent history of their forebears." Jones's 911 message after her husband had fatally stabbed himself in the neck only confirmed her mental ineptitude to dissociate life from art. In her message she said, "I hope the spirit of my mother and the spirit of my African ancestors destroy you, and I hope the spirit of my mother's ancestors and people of color all around the world decide that America is the contemptible and obscene place and destroy every American." There is no way the quiet and thoughtful Gayle, a graduate from Brown and then Michigan could have spat out those rantings; however, Ursa, the protagonist of CoRregidora could well be attributed that rhetoric without hesitation proving that Jones was indeed living out her characters.
I was recommended CoRregidora by a colleague who warned me of the blatant, at times vile sexuality of this novel. She also suggested I read this novel of Jones first before I read any of the others since this was perhaps the most palatable for a first-time reader of Jones. I must admit I'm glad I heeded her advice since Corregidora proved quite a trying experience that had my bile levels sky rocketing every twenty pages.
CoRregidora is the last name of the main protagonist Ursa, and it is a last name that yanks out Ursa's most tortuous memories. Yet it's a name that gives her the identity of a 'CoRregidora woman'. She has a love hate relationship with this name; a name she inherited from a white portugese plantation owner who physically abused both her mother and her grandmother. There are some graphic stories that Ursa's mother and the grandmother tell of their relationship with the testostrone driven CoRregidora. His depravity is highlighted by the fact that he has an incestuous relationship with Ursa's mother who he had fathered and yet, down the years, he took her on as another of 'his women' knowing that she was his daughter! However, Ursa's 'gramp' (grandmother) is not one to give up, and she goes about collecting evidence against her violator in the only way she knows how: by mothering a child of CoRregidora and feeding that child on stories of CoRregidora's vile deeds. Ursa's mother carries on the tradition by bringing Ursa into the world and keeping her updated on all the atrocities of CoRregidora against her family. Ursa thus becomes the carrier of generational evidence against CoRregidora, also her biological grandfather and her namesake! Gramp and Mamma made sure their progeny, Ursa, bore the burden of the CoRregidora name to constantly remind her of her duty, "to leave evidence" since history had "burned all the papers, so there wouldn't be no evidence to hold up against them. " Not surprising then, that Gayl Jones dedicated this novel to her parents "as a bold affirmation of the need for black women to bear witness, to pass their stories on to the next generation, if not through their children, then through art."
Whether Ursa 'delivers' and whether CoRregidora is brought to justice is for a gutsy reader to find out; a reader who has the gall to confront a shameful history. Definitely not a comfort or feel-good read. Would I read another Gayl Jones novel? Not for quite a while; I need to recuperate!