Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing
Drama ensues, and while the pair survive the racially motivated melee, they do not emerge unscathed. Still, the children grow up and move on, until a medical emergency functions like a beacon, summoning back those who escaped the gravity of their familial situations back home.
Naima Coster is no stranger to these sorts of homecomings. Her debut novel “Halsey Street,” about a failed artist who returns home to care for her father in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn, was a finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for fiction, and the quietly resonant novel was enough to land her on the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” list.
This second book is also about culture and capital, and even with its shortcomings, “What’s Mine and Yours” is a lyrical, universal story about home, reminiscent of the works of Jacqueline Woodson and Tayari Jones.
Still, the novel has its shortcomings. For a work with land and geography at its core, readers don’t get to know anywhere particularly well. The constantly rotating point of view means readers are everywhere and nowhere all at once — Paris, Los Angeles, the suburbs of Atlanta and the Piedmont of North Carolina, all while skipping through the years 1992, 1996, 2002 and 2018-2020. There is also no real urgency to pull readers through the narrative — no ticking clock or driving tension. Bad things happen, but the foreshadowing ahead of each event is so strong that it’s expected. The bombshells seem like open secrets and the characters quickly move on after the reveal or exit the scene shortly thereafter.
Coster’s brand of literary realism does deliver some elegant lines and keen universal observations for Noelle: “(B)eing a wife, it seemed, was mostly waiting. Waiting for a phone call, waiting to be thanked, waiting for a delivery, the plumber, her husband to come home, to ask whether she was all right, to slip a hand in her underwear.” The author has similar lines about mothering, trust and opportunity.
However, for a story that is billed as having several main characters, there essentially is only one: Noelle. It is her emotions and reactions to events that pull readers through most of the later years of the narrative. Everyone else is simply a foil, or at best, an accelerant. In the closing chapters a resolution arrives, but the reckoning never comes, and redemption is made impossible.
By the end of the book, the narrator’s description of “Measure for Measure” also sums up Coster’s latest work: “Claudio and Juliet were the only ones worth rooting for, although they spent nearly every act apart. They were victims, they loved one another, and nearly everyone else was detestable, too stuck in their own ideologies to ever do what was right.”
“What’s Mine And Yours”
By Naima Coster
Grand Central Publishing
352 pages, $28