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Life is Short but Wide
Cover of Life is Short but Wide
Life is Short but Wide
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Like the small towns J. California Cooper has so deftly portrayed in her previous novels and story collections, Wideland, Oklahoma, is home to ordinary Americans struggling to raise families, eke out a living, and fulfill their dreams. In the early twentieth century, Irene and Val fall in love in Wideland. While carving out a home for themselves, they also allow neighbors Bertha and Joseph to build a house and live on their land. The next generation brings two girls for Irene and Val, and a daughter for Bertha and Joseph. As the families cope with changing times and fortunes, and people are born and pass away, the characters learn the importance of living one's life boldly and squeezing out every possible moment of joy, while being held up by a strong foundation of love and the ultimate realization that whoever you are, and whatever you do, life is short, but it is also wide.
Like the small towns J. California Cooper has so deftly portrayed in her previous novels and story collections, Wideland, Oklahoma, is home to ordinary Americans struggling to raise families, eke out a living, and fulfill their dreams. In the early twentieth century, Irene and Val fall in love in Wideland. While carving out a home for themselves, they also allow neighbors Bertha and Joseph to build a house and live on their land. The next generation brings two girls for Irene and Val, and a daughter for Bertha and Joseph. As the families cope with changing times and fortunes, and people are born and pass away, the characters learn the importance of living one's life boldly and squeezing out every possible moment of joy, while being held up by a strong foundation of love and the ultimate realization that whoever you are, and whatever you do, life is short, but it is also wide.
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    Chapter 1


  • Occasionally, actually quite often, someone will refer to a family or person as dysfunctional. Which, I believe, is a sign of ignorance, for the obvious reason that 70 or 80 percent of all the people who have ever lived were dysfunctional. The other 20 or 30 percent tried to be, or had sense enough to be, a little wiser. Among them, the greatest were disliked, hated, killed, or crucified. And they weren't even perfect, except one.
    For instance they crucified Jesus of Nazareth, and all his disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and others. People who thought as much or more of others than they did of themselves. People killed the people who seemed to wish good things for mankind.
    Throughout the history of mankind the struggle for survival on this earth has been extremely, horribly intense and never ending. Wars have been fought, almost continually, when there were enough people to pick sides and fight; and enough dispensable men to be called on to die for their leader, country, or the current god. Then there was slavery; every country or body wanted a slave. Someone to do their work or make money for them. Sometimes slaves were all a war was about. And, if not a whole war, then groups, communities, families, and friends would fight and kill each other. Ain't that interesting?
    Not just African slaves; every nationality alive has been a slave, at some time, for some other nation. Believe me. It would seem most of mankind likes killing. For Greed of something, for Gold or financial reward. They doing it now!
    You probably know all about history so let us skip, for my purpose, to the twentieth century. People are still fighting slavery in one form or another. In many parts of the world women are fighting for food or medicine, a roof for their children, or some way to keep from being raped, while some other females fight to be able to show their naked behinds, breasts, and everything else they can get out in front of somebody.
    In several other parts of the world people are being denied their life, or stolen from their life to be sold. Children are being stolen, every day, killed or given away. Everything I can think of, you already know.
    I believe all anyone wants is to be "happy." Everyone just wants to be happy. Why are they not happy? Other people.
    Black people, Brown people, Native Americans are treated abominably. White races are not excluded. Poor white people have a struggle to survive also, no matter what they may think. Poor is the operative word. And yet . . . No one wants to leave this earth. Hate to die or scared to die.
    I am trying to say too much, and don't know how to say it. But I have often wondered at the Cain and Abel murder. I have wondered who Cain's progeny are. He and the wife he took to the land of Nod had children; and so on and so on, until today. There must be millions of them now. Sometime I think I recognize one on television; they would be the ones trying to run the world.
    When you look at history and life, you know the rich, and most anyone in high places, did not get there by being honest or good . . . a few, maybe. If not they, then an ancestor lied and deceived, even murdered.
    You may believe me or not. I don't mind. The truth is not popular.
    I truly marvel at the struggle for Love.
    Parents, children, relatives, all people are part of it. I'm leaving out the insane or mindless; but they, too, usually respond to love and kindness.
    Some people think this struggle for love makes the doing of all mean, petty, even evil things necessary. Why? Stupid and mindless is my guess. Because it ain't going to turn out right for them.
    Sometimes it's a struggle to get over self-love...
About the Author-
  • J. California Cooper lives in northern California.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine For the generations that pass through this novel, life seems short indeed, and peppered with as much hardship as happiness. In Wideman, Oklahoma, people come and go, love and lose, succeed and fail, with predictable regularity. Adenrele Ojo's performance shines brightest when she engages in dialogue between any of the myriad characters herein, creating a zest and personality that might otherwise go unnoticed. The listener can't help but get pulled into the story of the families whose paths cross in a small town, and Ojo's methodical narration is reasonable and easy to follow--but the audiobook is more diverting than it is dazzling. For the most part, the characters and setting remain flat, leaving the focus on life's brevity rather than its breadth. L.B.F. (c) AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 8, 2008
    With another multigenerational, wonderfully crafted Midwest ensemble cast, Cooper (Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns
    ) presents the town of Wideland, Okla., through the eyes of folksy nonagenarian Hattie B. Brown. This community sentinel, though sometimes short on memory, acts as tour guide and historian, introducing the town at the beginning of the 20th century, when the railroad first arrived and, with it, a growing population. Among the new residents, Hattie introduces the industrious, loving African-American cowboy Val Strong and his Cherokee “brother-friend” Wings; Val's hardened but beautiful wife, Irene Lowell; and their two strong-willed daughters, Rose and Tante. Following the Strong family and their associates through the better part of the 1900s, Hattie finds history running roughshod through their lives, crushing some and strengthening others, introducing new generations and obstacles to love, home and happiness. Cooper's characteristic motherly wit carries an appealing raft of characters through a world tougher than it is tender, but touched with beauty and wisdom.

  • Alice Walker
    "Cooper's work reminds us of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston...It is a delight to read."
  • Nikki Giovanni "[J. California Cooper] is my favorite storyteller. What a song she sings."
  • Halle Berry "My fifth-grade teacher...one day said, 'Instead of calling and asking me for advice, try reading J. California Cooper.'"
  • Boston Globe "A genius storyteller."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Exuberant...Cooper's stories reveal a meticulous attention to the nuances of African-American life."
  • Ms. magazine "It is as if [Cooper] is patting the seat next to us, enticing to come sit and listen."
  • Atlanta Constitution "What a voice...Cooper celebrates family, freedom, perseverance, life, and...powerful voices finally heard."
  • Washington Post "Gutsy and familiar... [Cooper's] power comes from sticking to her instinct, which is to tell a story, plain and simple."

  • -Essence
    "Cooper's characters are the folk heroes of black culture."
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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J. California Cooper
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