First, there’s the fact that you can slip this volume in a pocket: how secret is that. Then there are the kinds of secrets you’d expect (but maybe not from “Church Ladies”): infidelity, hotel bookings, and the like. But there are also instances in which characters in Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (2021) quietly agree to make their own reality behind closed doors.
“Normal according to who…?” one character asks. Sometimes these are proper secrets, the kind that cause pain. Other times, there’s just an appreciation that circumstances have altered cases: “And then I laughed, even though I felt like I shouldn’t have. Even though nothing was as it should be.” [Not-Daniel]
A young girl smells like bubblegum and a mother watches Dallas and Falconcrest on Friday nights. Fathers are scarce, sisters are abundant, and there’s a thread of mother-daughter stories throughout.
These are “Church Ladies” like K.D. Miller’s collection All Saints is a bunch of Church Stories: technically, yes, but other titles would have served too. In “Dear Sister”, the letter writer says: “Well, it’s not like any of us got to chose in the beginning. But we do get to decided how much space to give him now.” And that’s at the heart of this collection.
Because finally, on the page, Deesha Philyaw makes space for characters who might have been relegated to the margins of another collection: the yearners and the mourners, the weirdos and the warriors.
Contents: Eula, Not-Daniel, Dear Sister, Peach Cobbler, Snowfall, How to Make Love to a Physicist, Jael, Instructions for Married Christian Husbands, When Eddie Levert Comes