One of only a handful of novels published by black women during the forties, the story of ambitious Cleo Judson is a long-time cult classic. The Living Is Easy is delightfully wry and ironic humor—even bitchiness—of the novel coexists with a challenging moral and social complexity.
The Living is Easy takes a close, critical look at upper-class Black society in Boston around World War I. At its center is Cleo Jericho Judson, born in the South, the oldest of several sisters, a woman who exploits or creates weakness in others to gain her place in society and to maintain her role as the focus of her sisters' dependent admiration. Cleo is conniving, self-serving, domineering, as well as beautiful, dramatic, and breath-taking in her audacity. She hears of a house in a higher-class part of Boston where "there wasn't another colored family she knew who had beaten her to it." The rent is thirty-five dollars; she tells her husband it is fifty, convinces the landlord to accept twenty-five, and pockets the difference. Once she has the house, she convinces her sisters and their children to "visit" her; five months later, only Cleo still has a marriage and the sisters have nowhere else to go. Yet if Cleo is unethical, there is a clarity to her motives that is lacking in the Boston-born society she is determined to join, an elite society consisting of light-skinned, college-educated daughters and sons of self-made businessmen who - when the money runs out - find themselves caught between their own pride and the racism of the rest of the world. Dorothy West knew the society she wrote about - in fact, many of the characters are based on real people - and her observations are both sharp-edged and empathetic. -
"A powerful work."—Essence
"Dorothy West is a brisk storyteller with an eye for ironic detail...a deft stylist and writer of social satire."—Ms.
"Long beloved for its wry and ironic humor, this novel continues to delight and challenge readers."—Feminist Bookstore News
Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY
Trade Paper: 5.5 x 8.5, 376 pages
Price US: $16.95
Price Can: $20.50