Author: Erica Buddington
Length: 143 pages
Publication Date: December 30, 2015
There is an absolute possibility that any fan of Erica Buddington will find Boroughs Apart a slight but welcomed departure from her many earlier works despite the similar ‘signature’ DNA. Buddington writes about love, and she does it “lovely.”
Expressed with immeasurable depth, Buddington captures in Boroughs Apart the emotion of this present era noted for social messiness and peppered with the social media anonymity. But don’t be mistaken, Buddington’s stories are not solely engorged with relationship fluff, nor are they entangled in the idea that love always ends happily, although, regardless of the outcomes of her many stories, there is always a ‘happy ending,’ even in the face of emotional adversity. This is her beauty.
Buddington’s literary voice is further strengthened in this ambitious 2015 novella. She has written a plethora of enticing stories, but this novella is special. There is an accuracy in her descriptions and a measurable honesty in her feelings and voice. It’s visual. It’s heartfelt. It’s familiar. Boroughs Apart is more experimental than her previous works, vibing on being a virtual time-driven maze of sorts; the well-known unknown. She has presented the theme of unrequited love reincarnated as a present day passion mirroring unrelenting love from a generation past. Yes, it is a complicated story but comfortably and simply well crafted.
For clarity, this is not Of Micah and Men (the last Buddington book I reviewed), but it continues the theme of cool, sweet breezes and summertime passion in the metropolis. It is a departure from many of her creative endeavors, thematically, standing forthrightly and independently. It’s daring and cunning, puzzling and measured. It’s sensual without being blinded by sexuality and comfortable like still photos of a Caribbean sunset.
As stated in a previous commentary, Erica Buddington, as a writer, is relatively transparent which is brilliant. We know where she is going yet we still look forward to sitting ‘shotgun’ during the ride anyway. She points out the subtle beauty of things we may otherwise overlook and makes us pay attention closely enough to commonly unseen objects, which penetrates, and remains, a permanent part of our memory. Knowing where she gets her inspiration isn’t too challenging if you follow her revelations, but what sparks that inspiration is like a pinata; a box of chocolates; a warm bed on a cold night — simply something unexpected and pleasantly welcoming.
The story is principally about Evan, the 30-year-old ‘son of money’ with: “…Sahara sand brown, eyes the color of the sky when everything felt wrong,” and Ella: brown complexion (I believe), “…shoulder length dreads, bright yellow summer dress, and huge Sankofa earrings,” and their one degree of separation. They meet the way Borough strangers do; with an abruptness that is potentially sour but tastes as sweet as New York candy and they ultimately become the unlikely victims of Cupid’s arrow. The story, from this point, moves along quickly.
Ella, a junior curator, arrives unknowingly at Evan’s home to assess a painting. This meeting segues into the essentials of the story. An earlier meeting between them, although brief, is now in ‘confirmation’. Fate, one can assume, must have brought them together, as the past lords of missed opportunity assured that their moment wouldn’t be lost. Thematically, this is crucial, and Buddington nails it from the start. Oddly, their chance meeting is more revealing than either assumes but eventually Evan and Ella will realize that they are living an unlikely parallel to the lives of people close to home; both homes.
Boroughs Apart is a keenly ambitious work and, ideally unpredictable. Does it spark the imagination of anyone who has ever asked the question: What can happen if a stranger walks into your life who isn’t a stranger at all? Yes, it does in a way that isn’t foreign, forced or ubiquitous. But, as I have come to note in Buddington’s writing, this interrogative summation proved too simple a prompt for her, and she ventures into the hollows of complicated webs and surreal themes. In Boroughs Apart, she guides us into the worlds of people we’ve seen but never got a chance to know; the people whose social status allowed them to float where others could barely walk. She took us into those homes we’d only admired through shade-less windows, standing and gawking, hypnotically, at the Renaissance brilliance and tasteful wealth while we’re speechlessly consumed. Buddington shows Harlem’s beauty and the virtues and vulnerabilities of even its wealthier children.
Because any additional commentary will be a spoiler, I will say, as casually and nonchalantly as I possibly can, that the meeting of Ella and Evan has historical significance and unexpected ramifications; the kind of mysterious close encounter between strangers that cannot be calculated but is wholly welcomed.
Boroughs Apart speaks ominously of unrequited destiny, dysfunctional family privilege, chance love, and hope at the possibility to re-love what seemed eternally lost. It is the stories of two families, brought together by fate and coincidence. It is a most vivid example of her beautiful mind and imagination. One thing is for certain, it is ambitious and doesn’t take away from the magic that she has cornered and the talent that she truly possesses. In Buddington, who is also a visual artist, there is joy in the story and bright colors on the canvas, reflecting the realities that we all know or will one day discover; the unquestionable evidence of a soul’s memorial, and a belief in the worthiness of holding on to hope and embracing faith.