I just have to share news of this startling little novella I just finished: Nella Larsen's Passing.
Set in the late 1920s in a society still under the shadow of Plessy v. Ferguson, it's the story of Irene and Clare, both of mixed-race heritage and light-skinned. They grew up together, but Clare moved away after the death of her father, and they reconnect as adultswhen Clare is "passing" for white, in her everyday life. Irene passes occasionally, for momentary social benefits, but identifies more closely with the black community, and lives her everyday life openly within it. Irene learns that Clare's (white) husband is horribly racist and unaware of Clare's heritage, and has to decide whether to keep Clare's secretwhen doing so may also save Irene's own marriageor stand up for her beliefs.
There are many threads of tension throughout, and some of the sexual tensions are interesting to read so soon after finishing The Awakening. But the issue of "passing," the fluid racial identifications, and the social confines of the time are what made this so fascinating and challenging, and so different from things I'd read before.
Thinking back, my reading history has little that depicts the early/emerging black middle class and the choices available to them (in all aspects, not just race), and I thought a lot about how setting this story among the middle class made it very different from the options the characters would have had if it had been set in a different time or placecf. Imitation of Life, for just one example. I hadn't had previous occasion to think about race choices (a concept foreign to my experience) in this milieu. This book's effect on me reminded me of the phrase "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable"a good thing, IMHO.
So although this was not on my Gaps list, reading it helped me realize that I had a gapand on my next list I'll add Larsen's 1928 novel Quicksand.
PS: I read the Penguin Classics edition, which has a fascinating introduction by Professor Thadious M. Davis that I didn't read until after finishing the story. This intro is like a lit seminar, discussing virtually all the various threads of tension, as well as the place this work has in American literature in general, and Harlem Renaissance literature in specific.