Thursday, May 13, 2010

Push - Sapphire

I haven't yet seen the movie Precious that is based on this book - but given the runaway success of both the film and the novel, I thought I better check it out. The good news is that this book is incredibly short and can easily be read in one short sitting. The book is written from the perspective of the character Precious, an illiterate teenager pregnant for the second time by her own father. She lives with an abusive mother who blames Precious for "stealing her man," and her first child, born with down syndrome is offensively named Little Mongo. Once her second pregnancy is discovered, Precious is sent to a continuation school, where under the guidance of a caring teacher, she learns how to explore her past through writing. The author writes in Precious's voice, meaning that the grammar and spelling throughout the book are horrendous - even worse when she is demonstrating Precious's actual written words in her new journal. I understand the point of this literary device - and have seen it used so many times in books where characters come from the inner city, are immigrants, or otherwise come from disadvantaged backgrounds. I do, however, find that it can distract from the story that is being told. What Sapphire does do well is present the viewpoint of a traumatized and abused young woman. In many ways Precious is wise beyond her years - she has learned to survive - both physically and mentally, and she has within her a desire to be better for her children. What is frustrating is that, through not fault of her own, she has no perspective or ability to understand her limitations - and while the teacher character in the book is supportive in this respect - there is only the haunting reality that Precious's children will end up deprived of the very basic care that she herself was never given. Obviously, this is part of the point of the story - that as a society we have failed countless children and communities on very basic levels - that our welfare system is broken, and that we allow our most precious resources to simply fall through the cracks. What I felt was missing in this story though was a sense of hope - Precious, despite all she has endured does have hope for herself and she is certainly working to better her future for herself and her children - but there isn't really a hint that this is going to turn out very well for anyone. The book and movie have been called "inspirational" and "redemptive." But, I didn't get this sense at all. Perhaps "unfortunately realistic" is more to the point, and lately I've just had a hard time reading stories about such bleak problems that offer no suggestions for solutions. This book seems to just be asking us to recognize that so much pain and horror exists in this world, and that yet the human spirit perseveres. I think we need so much more.


Loana said...

Dude, this is deep. So true, but don't you think it's enough that the author presents the bleak picture? I think it informed the audience that this type of crap is happening and we need to do something about it. I feel like that's why this story was great and original. We rarely see these stories - ones that are realistic without being over the top (too much craziness is unbelievable). But I guess you maybe agree you are just not in a space to read stories that offer no solutions. Anyhoo, love it. Also loved my Chelsea Handler shout out.

annehawk said...

I agree that people/authors need to present bleak pictures about life - and the real world rarely has happy endings, so perhaps it's not productive to wish that all books have happy endings. I just wonder how much this actually opens the eyes of readers who have never been exposed to this type of reality. Is it so much that it allows people to just believe it is over-exaggerated fiction? I worry that the lack of solutions just allows people to raise up their hands and move on thinking there's nothing that can be done and that the problems are just too big. It's frustrating becuase I definitely agree that these stories need to be told - I am just frustrated when it is done in a way that almost just seems sensationalized or exploitative...needless to say, I am conflicted!