deep condition by Elle Jeffries
deep condition is Elle Jeffries’ debut novel, and her future is very bright if this is any indication. This is a story about a woman struggling to come into her own, and find her own voice, in the midst of dealing with significant personal trauma. The way she attempts to do this is through writing. Our narrator says, “Writing can heal” (pg.154), and this story is an example.
This book read like jazz — in fact, I’m listening to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme right now to stay in the spirit of the novel as I write. Interestingly, Elle’s main character and narrator, Nia, is a writer, and the two of them have a deeply poetic sensibility in the way that they use words. Our author has created a character who is deeply fractured, yet has put the pieces together just so; we are able to see Nia’s infinite potential if she were to commit to doing the work to become whole herself. Nia’s characterization is melded through her relationship with her own hair. It is cut off when she needs a new beginning. It grows dry and brittle as a physical indicator of her personal self-neglect. It’s healthy and supple when she’s putting in the self-work needed for healing. Nia is intensely complex. She knows writing is the medium through which she is able to be the most honest and tell her stories. She recognizes the power in that: “I think there’s power in the story, but there’s also power in learning how to tell the story — in being the story teller…” (pg. 159). This line reminded me of a quote from Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, “All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold” (Hurston). It’s so important to see a Black woman crafting the way her story, and the stories of other Black women, are told.
What’s striking to me about Nia is that she is aware of the power of being honest in her truth, in telling her stories, but she so often refuses to do that in her relationships out of fear of being abandoned. Even after it costs her the love of her life, Quentin, she almosts loses her next significant relationship out of this stubborn reluctance to be bare with men. She also seems unwilling to commit to the hard work of healing; she had a good experience with therapy in college, and her hair reaped the benefits of her finally taking care of herself. But after college was over, it doesn’t seem that she ever went back, choosing instead to compartmentalize and box away the emotions and pain — the grief — that she was experiencing daily.
The story follows Nia as she enters Monroe University as a journalism major and follows her through her experiences there and after she graduates and enters into the DC journalism world. At Monroe, she starts a online publication called Brown Girl, where she writes and publishes stories of Black women on her campus. Brown Girl came to be after By Any Means, the magazine started by Quentin that drew her to Monroe in the first place, refused to publish a story about a Black girl who had been raped on campus. Quentin told Nia that this story wasn’t about race, and therefore didn’t have a place at By Any Means. Which raised a question for me about why Black men are so often unaware of Black women’s intersectionality but are so keenly aware of their own? To be Black and male is clear in its implications for most Black men; why are the implications of Black femininity not so?
An aspect of this novel that I especially enjoyed was the voice of the narrator. Nia often waxes poetic in really beautiful ways. Although it sometimes feels like the characters speak as if they’re aware that they’re characters in a book — for example, “Thanks for being my wings on days when I’m too afraid to fly” (pg. 55) — it never hinders the experience of the book. In fact, wouldn’t life be more wonderful if we all spoke to one another this way? I loved lines like, “Although she wasn’t sure if it were a figment of her imagination or the sound of a mother’s broken heart beating with irregularity. Either way, she missed him like she missed her unborn child” (pg. 163). Or, further down on the same page, “Life sounded like pen to paper. Life sounded like story.” The language of the text crafts this beautiful world out of pieces of heartbreak and deep sadness. In the midst of everything, there is still life worth living.
deep condition is both noun and verb. It is both “the state of being black,” and an act of “self-preservation” (Jeffries). It is “an experience of self that is shaped by pigment and history” and it is to “engage in a preventative hair maintenance routine” (Jeffries). A dense book, only 170 pages, takes us on a journey of self-love and learning to walk in the power of refusing to silence one’s own voice. You should read this book if you want to continue to amplify and be an ear to Black women’s stories. We matter.
Disclaimer: A copy of deep condition was provided to me by the author. This in no way shaped or influenced by review.