PUSH by Sapphire

Push by SapphireTitle:  Push

Author:  Sapphire

Paperback:  192 pages

Published:  1996

Acquired:  bought new from Walmart

Challenges: New Author Challenge 2010, We Didn’t Start the Fire 2010 (AIDS), POC Reading Challenge

I don’t have nothing to write today – maybe never.  Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drwoning.  My head all dark inside.  Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now.  Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.  One time in your journal you told me you had never really told your story.  I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.”  I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!”  I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!”  I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I’m made a fool of myself on top of everthing else.  “Open your notebook Precious.”  “I’m tired,” I says.  She says, “I know you are but you can’t stop now Preciuos, you gotta push.”  And I do.

-Push by Sapphire, pages 96-97

wow.  I mean really, WOW.

Push by Sapphire is a book of truth.  It is raw, heart-breaking, and hard.  It is inspiring, hope-filled, naked and honest.  It is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, not that happy beach book many want, it is stark and dark and real and beautiful.  It could’ve been exploitative, could’ve been depressing and hopeless, could’ve so easily become an anti-white, anti-men rant, but Sapphire managed to weave the story together, as told by the main character, Precious Jones, into an emotional tale of how education can give hope for a chance at freedom and a better life.

I knew a bit about the story from the movie based on the book, Precious.  I haven’t yet seen the movie (are you kidding?  There’s no way the theater owner of our little 2-screener would’ve had THAT movie in HIS place!  Heck, he wouldn’t bring in a Tyler Perry movie, and they’re funny with a little “let’s get real” on the side), so I have to way until it comes out on DVD next month (already in my Netflix queue), but I have seen the trailers and watched the interviews and heard the awards buzz about it.  From the few scenes I’ve seen, and after reading the book, the movie should win every award it could qualify for, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be irate.  I also knew about this book from seeing it being checked out… always out and never in… at the library, and from reading Kathy at Bermudaonion’s review back in December.

So when I wandered (drifted mindlessly, to be more accurate) to the book section at Walmart the day before yesterday and saw it on the shelf, it was in my cart before Maggie could say, “No more books, MOM!”  Now, my policy for buying new books at full price is that it HAS to be a book I will read immediately.  Not next month or next year, but this week or sooner.  I was already several pages into Push before I left the store, and finished a little more than 24 hours after buying it.  Push is the kind of book that, as soon as you put it down, you pick it back up and start reading again, forgetting why you’d put it down in the first place.  The kind of book you forget to eat because it’s so engrossing.  I could barely go to the bathroom, and would worry and wonder what was going on with Precious while I was gone from her.  It will, without a doubt, be one of my top 10 books of 2010, and on my favorites list forever.

Okay, so enough gushing….  Let’s deal with the book itself.

One of the first things I got out of Push, was the realization of what it was, exactly, that I’d hated about The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine.  Both Precious and Batuk narrate their respective stories through writing in a journal.  Both books deal with the loss of innocence, sexual abuse, the sacrifice of the child by a parent, animosity between mother and daughter, and that education is the only hope and chance of escape.  But where they differ greatly is in the voice of the narrator.  Precious is pissed.  She’s upset, emotional, and expresses her sense of injustice at the terrible hand life has dealt her.  WHY? is her question over and over.  And understandably so; you expect these feelings.  Batuk, on the other hand, falls flat.  She’s accepting of her situation, barely registers emotion, occassionally expresses that she misses her father (the same man who sold her) and waxes nostalgic for the past.  Aarti of B O O K L U S T tweeted that she felt Batuk was a strong character, but I never saw any strength in her.  I do, however, agree that the overall voice of The Blue Notebook was despair and hoplessness, as Batuk knew she could never escape the situation.

Another thing I can tell you, with personal authority, is that the feelings and experiences Precious expresses from the standpoint of being an incest survivor is very real and very true.  There are things that Precious says about the sex with her father that are difficult for a child to wrap their own head around, let alone have the courage to say outloud, even in a journal.  Things like the shame you feel at feeling physical pleasure during this situation that you know in every fiber of your being is WRONG.  It’s one of the things that totally screws up the person’s ability to relate sexually for the rest of their life.  Also, Precious’s reference to genitals, hers as well as others, reflects how deeply incest survivors view their own objectification as a sex object.  “I am of no value nor worthy of love except through sex.”  is the personal worth statement of many, no matter how long it’s been since the last occurance (it’s been over 10 years for me, and he’s now dead, and yet it still that thought pervades), and the longer the abuse went on, the more pervasive and rooted that feeling becomes.

Besides the sensitive subject of molestation and the emotional affectation of the book, there is also the racial side of things.  This is where my brain spent more time, because it’s the only part I don’t share with Precious (well, that and I didn’t have children by my abuser).  I would say, “I hope I don’t offend anyone,” but then would holding back in an attempt to be non-offensive honor my Flavor of the Week, Amy, or create dialogue?  No, it would not.  So let the offense commence!

Push by Sapphire – on Race and racism

This review may become my longest ever (except The Book Thief, and may surpass that and the companion post), but I don’t care.  It deserves the length and the discussion.  Let’s get real, as Dr. Phil says.

Precious has a poster on her wall of the famous leader of The Nation of Islam, and often refers to him as the only real man she knows.  One of his sentiments that she echos more than once is, “problem is not crack but the cracker” (page 83).  I will heartily admit there are far more white people who have put their feet on the back of the neck of blacks throughout history than have helped, but maybe I’m naive in hoping things are better now than before.  I grew up in with a racist father who told offensive jokes and used the N word often, though he was not as bad as a lot of my friends parents.  It’s the way things were then.  It should NOT have been, and it was wrong, but it was what it was.  I’ve done my best to free myself from all that biggotry and to unlearn the prejudice, but it’s still something I’m aware of.  My hope is that my children will never think multiculturalism an oddity, but that it comes as natural to them as sunshine and breathing.

As the story progresses, Ms Rain, Precious’s teacher, shows her that not ALL Farrakhan’s ideas are right, like his anti-semitism and anti-homosexual beliefs, and Precious understands and sees her point.  She still hangs on to him as an inspiration and hero, citing him in her poem at the end of the book “Get up off your knees, Farrakhan say”, which I think is maturity in anyone.  As I’ve gotten older, read more, and learned more, there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about people.  We want a quick and easy, singular answer.  Life is anything but that, though, and no one person has the answers to everything, nor is he or she right all the time.  You have to sift and take away what’s worthy and leave the rest.  Most of the people you glean from aren’t good or bad, but a mixture of the two, and we must see their humanity and avoid the temptation to adulation or hate.

Other moments in the book that show the sense of distrust and dislike of whites are things like Precious’s feelings in the school counselor’s office, or the social worker’s office in the halfway house.  Precious, as well as the others in her class, express distrust, fear, and blame the white people in charge of her case.  This, I think, is the sentiment that sticks in my heart and throat as I try to wrap my head around it and put myself in her shoes.  Everywhere Precious would turn, there is a white wall blocking her escape.  No one stepped in to take her out of the situation after her first baby was born.  Who stood up to help her learn to read?  Where was the teacher when Precious was having such emotional problems (other kids in the class, her mother’s abuse at home, and the main start of the sexual abuse) in the second grade that she was wetting her pants?  Ugh!  I can understand the blame and anger she feels toward whites, and it breaks my heart to know I myself, my kids included, are judged the same, though we would NOT be like that.

And maybe it’s that that makes the racism in this book painful.  I’m being judged by the color of my skin, too, and it isn’t fair – it is never fair.  And with that thought, I have to bump Push by Sapphire up another notch, because reading it has given me a glimpse at what it feels like for African-Americans all the time, and they can’t close their book at “The End”.  They live it all the time, while I get to go back to being white in a white world.

I really love this book and, but for the explicit language and the mature subject matter, think it should be read by everyone.  Okay, so it’s not likely to be a classroom read for a high school, but definitely a college study.  I wish I’d known about it when I was in college, I could’ve had another 13 years of mulling it over and letting it work through me.  Of course, obviously, I give Push by Sapphire 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is the author Sapphire in an interview with Katie Couric discussing the journey of the book Push to the movie Precious

And, I couldn’t resist a trailer for the movie.. k, now I’m weepy.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Title:  Haunted

Author:  Chuck Palahniuk

Paperback:  412 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Vintage

ISBN:  9780099497172

Looking back, it was Mr. Whittier’s stand that we’re always right.

“It’s not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say.

Really, there is no wrong.  Not in our own minds.  Our own Reality.

…In your own mind, you are always right.  Every action you take – what you do or say or how you choose to appear – is automatically right the moment you act.

…We’re all condemned to be right.  About everything we can consider.

In this shifting, liquid world where everyone is right and any idea is right the moment you act on it, Mr. Whitier would say, the only sure thing is what you promise.

“Three months, you promised,” Mr. Whittier says through the steam of his coffe.

It’s then something happens, but not much.

In that next look, you feel your asshole get tight.  Your fingers fly to cover your mouth.

Miss America is holding a knife in one hand.  With her other hand, she grips the knot of Mr. Whittier’s necktie, pulling his face up toward her own.  Mr. Whittier’s coffee, dropped, spilled steaming-hot on the floor.  His hands hang, shaking, swirling the dusty air at ech side.

Saint Gut-Free’s silver bag of instant crepe Suzette drops, spilled out on the cornflower-blue carpet, the sticky red cherries and reconstituted whipped cream.

And the cat runs over for a taste.

Her eyes almost touching Mr. Whittier’s, Miss America says, “So I’m right if I kill you?”

-Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, pages 60-61

Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk is the stories and poems within a bigger story that is the shadow of the truth.  It is the camera behind the camera behind the camera, as is often said in the book.  It’s the story of a collection of strangers who have all answered an ad about a writer’s retreat, but find it’s a lot more than they bargained for.  Mr. Whittier, the operator of the “retreat” tells them that they’ve promised to write and, for the  next three months, he intends to hold them to that promise.  However, there is an unfortunate hiccup in the plan when Whittier dies from a busted gut after eating the equivalent of 10 freeze-dried turkey dinners.  Now the strangers are on their own, locked in an abandoned hotel/theater, each with their own guilt and story to haunt them.

From a psychological/sociological point of view, this book is fascinating.  It’s  a bit like Lord of the Fliesin that it is the witness of the de-evolution of society.  How depraved can people get?  How little humanity will be left at the end of the three month period?  When food runs out (because they’ve all sabotaged the supplies) what will they eat?  That they are all there as writers and artists, what will they do with this time they are given?

It is a dark look into the human soul.  The Missing Link states that it is how we treat the animals around us that shows our humanity… the cat disappears shortly after he says this.  Director Denial makes a statement again and again that people turn each other into objects, then turn objects into people.  Points are made that humans have  a low threshhold of tolerance to boredom, that we seek out a villain to blame all our troubles on, and that we thrive on chaos, drama and disaster.  There’s no joy like the joy found in another’s suffering.  That all this drama and difficulty is to prepare us for our final act, our own death.

While these are the concepts that drew me to this book, I found the book itself a bit on the boring side.  I kept falling asleep… though, that may have been because I couldn’t nibble while reading due to the nauseatingly disgusting content.  Haunted has more canabalism in it that the Donner Party was ever accused of.  The graphic descriptions of the toilets backing up, the cooking of a baby, and decomposition were enough to make me gag. 

This is only my second Palahniuk book, Rant being my first, and I’m aware he can be a bit disgusting and warped.  One review I read said that Hauntedwas for the true Palahniuk fans.  I’ve got a few more of his books on Mt. TBR, but I think I’m going to wait for a while before reading another by him… let my stomach settle.  It’s definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Even though it was gut-churningly gross, the intellectual appeal was enough to keep me reading on.  I give Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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One of my favorite parts of my Border’s newsletters is the shortlist.  When Palahniuk’s book Snuff came out, the following video was his shortlist offering.  I think it was this vid that made me want to read more Palahniuk (as well as pick up Clown Girl)

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Title: The Lace Reader

Author: Brunonia Barry

Hardback: 391 pages

Publish Date: 2006

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780061624766

My name is Towner Whitney.  No, that’s not exactly true.  My real first name is Sophya.  Never believe me.  I lie all the time.

I am a crazy woman… That last part is true.

My little brother, Beezer, who is kinder than I, says the craziness is genetic.  We’re from five generations of crazy, he says, as if it were a badge he’s proud to wear, though he admits that I may have taken it to a new level.

…My mother, May, for example, is a walking contradiction in terms.  A dedicated recluse who (with the exception of her arrests) hasn’t left her home on Yellow Dog Island for the better part of twenty years, May has nevertheless managed to revive a ling-defunct lace-making industry and to make herself famous in the process.  She has gained considerable notoriety for rescuing abused women and children and turning their lives around, giving the women a place in her lace-making business and home-educating their children.  All this from a raging agoraphobic who gave one of her own children to her barren half sister, Emma, in a fit of generosity because, as she said at the time, there was a need, and besides, she had been blessed with a matching set.

-The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, pages 3-4

In Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader, Towner Whitney lets the reader know from the start that she is an untrustworthy narrator.  Hospitalized after having suffered from depression and hallucinations at the age of 17, she has memory gaps caused from the shock-therapy she’d received as part of treatment.  She tells of her family’s gift of fortunetelling by reading lace, of her mother’s “generosity” in giving her twin sister to her Aunt Emma when they were born, and of the subsequent abuse her sister received from her adoptive father, Cal Boynton.

After being gone from Salem, Mass. for over a decade, Towner finds herself back in her Great Aunt Eva’s house, after Eva has gone missing.  Visions of past happenings, as well as psychic dreams and visits from Eva’s ghost, fill Towner’s present.  She struggles with second-guessing herself as to whether she is going crazy again or if she is really experiencing the surreal events.  The disappearance of Angela Rickey, the girlfriend of Towner’s ex-Uncle, now the Reverend Cal, sets final events into motion that bring everything to a head with some surprising twists that will keep you guessing until the very end.

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To be honest, I have mixed feelings about The Lace Reader.  For the most part, my issues aren’t really with the book itself, but with how it’s affected me after reading it.  Some of the things in the story hits very close to home, and, combined with the bad sinus and chest cold I have, has caused me to have a few nightmares. 

I really enjoyed and appreciated how Barry presented the way reading taught, how having this particular talent affects a person’s everyday life and the way they interact with people, and the way it is talked (or not talked) about within the family.  I’ve never heard of lace reading, though the principal is easy enough to understand.  I prefer tarot cards, but I’ve also read tea leaves, and all these are is a focal point to allow the vision to present itself.  I grew up in a family of “gifted” people, and I myself struggled with the question of sanity.  On page 320, Barry describes this perfectly:

You walk that line… between the real world and the world of the possible.

Towner says that this isn’t a line, but a crack into which she fell long ago.

The Lace Readerby Brunonia Barry is definitely a book meant to be read at an easy pace.  If you rush through it, you will miss a lot of the nuances.  I think I would have to say I liked it;  it is a haunting story.  I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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