Celebrating Women’s Fiction with a Haunting Tale of DC
By Thais Carrion
“Creatures of Passage” pays tribute to an unseen DC, a magical, dark, humid space where the dead walk amongst the living and intuition rules the land. Blending together Egyptian mythology and the strong Black history of Anacostia, Morowa Yejide gives us a world where there are no states or counties, instead kingdoms and fiefdoms spread out along the east coast and a cast of characters who all find themselves inevitably drawn to the mystical realm of Anacostia, a place where “Dreams come true even when you don’t want them to”. An endlessly dark story, the tragedies faced by each character interconnect and tie together in a heart-racing climax, in which many must finally confront their ghosts in order to move forward with their lives.
We are first introduced to Nephthys Kinwell, a mysterious driver with a half-finger and a supernatural sense for lost souls. Much like the egyptian goddess whose name she shares, Nephthys is summoned by the wandering hearts of Anacostia’s residents and never fails to show up in her haunted 1967 blue Plymouth Belvedere, which never breaks down, runs out of gas, or gets pulled over despite the inebriated state of the driver. She is a somber character, constantly on the move to avoid the ever present pain brought on by the loss of her twin brother, Osiris.
Nephthys, her nephew Dash and his mother Amber Kinwell - the death witch of Anacostia whose ominous dreams never fail to come true - are simultaneously reviled and rendered indispensable residents of Anacostia. For all the fear and mysticism generated around the family, the Kinwell’s guide the wandering hearts of Anacostia through the painful journeys that each resident’s individual tragedies force them through.
Helplessness plays a large role throughout the story and Yejide masterfully cultivates dramatic irony across every new scene and character we meet. The reader constantly suffers with knowledge that will forever remain elusive to the characters who blindly trudge their way forward through hardship only to be met with further irony and heartbreak. Jumping through timelines, the narrator never fails to include the developments of the future that render our characters present conflicts and worries futile. Much like the inevitable nature of death and rebirth, futility and the promise of change plays a big role in the undercurrents of the story as characters are swept along their respective paths and ultimately forgotten by the future, with the gentrification of Anacostia’s black history mentioned throughout the novel further underscoring the main themes.
Along with the palpable anguish throughout the novel, Yejide’s intensive use of dramatic irony acts as a nod to our own privilege as readers of the story. Us, the reader, an entity capable of consuming the story from the comfort of our own sofas, able to skim through the trauma and pain with empathy, but not bearing the burden of understanding. Thinking about places of privilege within the structures that govern so much of our daily lives is a topic Yejide navigates subtly but clearly, drawing a line in the sand between the reader and the realities of her characters that is felt throughout the story.
Much like a ride through the river Styx, “Creatures of Passage” starts off with a seemingly clear purpose, loses its way in the tragedy of the lost souls along the path, and finds purpose anew as these tragedies weave together and move forward towards closure and release. Yejide takes care with telling the story of her characters, providing histories and complex inner worlds for each one that quickly overtakes the underlying plot. That being said, the dynamism of each character keeps readers absorbed as we slowly find our way back to the trajectory of the novel.
The magical kingdom descriptions of the east coast and the states neighboring DC work to further separate Anacostia in the 1970s from our own understandings of the United States and its history. Yejide removes the reader from the setting described in the story, Anacostia’s black heritage feels like an otherworldly, anachronistic event, one fully separate from the development and gentrification that has taken over the area today.
Photo by: Sarah Fillman
Author Bio: MOROWA YEJIDÉ, a native of Washington, DC, is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Time of the Locust, which was a 2012 finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize, long-listed for the 2015 PEN/Bingham Prize, and a 2015 NAACP Image Award nominee. She lives in the DC area with her husband and three sons. Her most recent novel, Creatures of Passage, was shortlisted for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and a 2021 Notable Book selection by NPR and the Washington Post. PRONUNCIATION: Mo-RO-wa YAY-je-DAY.