The Color Purple – A Reflection

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker is rated 4 stars because it is a moving and beautiful story which feels authentic.

First, a Review

It’s hard to review a book which is considered a modern classic and is loved by so many. It feels like most anything that could be said about the book has already been said and either you will read it or you will not. But I will attempt to say a few things about this book that will hopefully sway those that have not red it to consider reading it.

I had avoided reading this book for quite awhile because I knew it dealt with tough subjects and I am not always in a place to deal with such things in the books I’m reading. But a friend who I trust on these sorts of things said while the book did deal with tough subjects, it wasn’t done in such a way as to be emotionally challenging to deal with. Thus, I gave it a chance (I suggested we read it for my book club), and I’m very glad I did. While horrible things happen to Celie (see trigger warning for more details), because this book is written as letters, these things are mentioned as mere facts. While they impact Celie, she takes it for granted that it’s just the way things are and doesn’t say much else about them. If you are worried about this book being emotionally draining, don’t. It’s an uplifting story.

The matter of fact way these horrible thing are discussed makes them more powerful. The sense that this is just the way things are brings to light how bad it really is without having to say that. These things are not uncommon and that makes them all the more atrocious. Even though they are common, the books shows how different women respond to them, which is also incredibly powerful. While these women see these things as the way things are, they also do not all choose to respond to them equally and this variance is a kind of power over these forces they do not fully control. This also makes it an uplifting story.

Celie’s letters are written with spelling and grammatical errors and more like spoken speech than formal letter writing. This makes it a bit harder to get into the story as one has to navigate the unique language of the book. But it is incredibly powerful in this book as it shows so much of who Celie is. In general, I am not a fan of novels written through letters, with a few exceptions, and this is one of them. Again, it works really well for this book as it shows the core of who Celie is in a straightforward way which feels more authentic to her voice than a novelization would have felt. Overall, this is a book I highly recommend and if you, like me, have reservations about this book due to its subject matter and/ or its style, I myself felt these reservations were unwarranted.

Now, a Reflection

Note, there are spoilers in this reflection. The entire reflection is a spoiler, so there are no markers indicating parts one can read and avoid spoilers.

In my book club, we discussed Celie’s and Shug’s relationship and several of the members expressed how frustrating it was when Shug left Celie. Some also expressed confusion at why Celie was so accepting of how their relationship played out. Besides the fact that Celie was the kind of person who mostly accepted things they way they were, this relationship felt incredibly authentic to me and it is something I wished I had read when I was in high school. At that time in my life, I myself was in a similar relationship and I would have benefited greatly from seeing an example of the kind of relationship I was in. My best friend and I moved beyond friendship to lovers, yet, it was complicated by the fact that neither of us was entirely sure of our sexuality. We both at various points dating men and neither of us saw it as a violation of our relationship. We weren’t polyamorous; we didn’t know what that was. We wouldn’t have tolerated one of us dating another woman. But there was this expectation that we would date men. We didn’t discuss this in detail and all I can say is that she was supportive of me dating men. For me, I didn’t really consider the possibility of us having an exclusive relationship. I didn’t really cross my mind. In retrospect, I think this is because society expects women to date men, whether we are interested in doing so or not. Women aren’t freely given a lot of agency in their sexual relationships with men and this greatly impacts women’s ability to explore their own sexuality. In my reflection on the book, Carmilla, I discussed how my relationship with this woman was invisible to most people around us, even when we were vocal about it. I believe this played a role in both of us dating men. At no point, did we sit down and say, well, obviously we have to keep dating men; there was no discussion of it at all. One of us went on a date with a man and that was that. We discussed it as friends would, not as lovers open to additional partners or lovers being cheated on. It did not occur to us that there was any other way and I felt that this is how Celie and Shug saw their relationship. In addition, Shug, needed the external validation of men’s attraction to her for her self-esteem. I can relate to this. I spent years dating men because of what I already discussed in how I didn’t think to not date them, but also because I was raised to thrive on sexual attention from males. It took me many years to recognize that while I enjoyed that attention, I did not enjoy dating or having sex with almost all men. I had to get to a place where I was confident enough in who I was as a person to be able to say that I expect relationships with women to be exclusive and that I do not need the sexual attention of men to feel complete. That’s not an easy place to get to and it’s not a place I think Shug was ready to get to anytime soon. While unfortunately I think there are some readers who dismiss their relationship as real because of how it plays out, I saw it as more real because it mirrored my experience. I think if I had read this book back then, I would have thought more carefully about my own sexuality and what I wanted with my best friend turned lover. This type of story matters and I am incredibly grateful to have read it.

Trigger warnings (contains spoilers): sexual abuse, namely incest, detailed not graphically depicted; children born of incest; physical abuse, detailed not graphically depicted; racism and racial slurs

Advertisements

Sparrow Migrations – A Review

Sparrow MigrationsSparrow Migrations by Cari Noga is rated 2.5 stars, rounded up because there was decent character development and I was engaged, but the story wasn’t particularly memorable or interesting

When I read the summary for this book, I thought it was going to be a sad book and thus it spent a long time on my Kindle shelf. But this year, I’ve committed to tackle Mount TBR and have a quarter to half of the books I read be ones I already own. Plus, I enjoy listening to easy reads when I’m doing things around the house, so this one ended up being a book I finally got to. Thankfully it wasn’t an emotional story. Yes, it starts with the Miracle on the Hudson landing, but it quickly moves beyond that to look at the lives of three families who were impacted by this event. In addition, only one of those families was on the plane; the other two were on ferries which aided in the rescue. This is not a book about tragedy but rather a book about finding oneself.

The stories of each family vary quite a bit from each other, which makes their stories more interesting. It does make it a bit easier to keep their stories straight; however, in the beginning while the reader is still learning their stories, it is really difficult to keep track of all the characters. This is because the story does not follow the point of view of one character from each family, but rather nearly all family members. This constant change in perspective is frustrating and it only minimally adds to the story. There’s even a time when the point of view is from a minor character who is not one of the family members. It is simply too many perspectives, especially since all essentially told in the same voice. While I understand why the author did this, it simply did not add the depth to the story to the extent she thought it did. There were moments when these other perspectives were helpful in understanding the characters and their development; however, it would have been better to limit this to a few brief moments when the point of view was from the non-main family character. For example, Robby was the main character of his family and I would have greatly preferred to have his family’s story told from his point of view entirely, but it was useful to see his dad’s perspective at one particular point in the novel. Yet, it was less useful to see his point of view nearly as often as Robbie’s. This constant switching is particularly challenging in the beginning and I suspect some readers will bail early in the book simply because of this issue.

The best thing about this book was its character development, though it could have been better had the story stuck to one perspective per family. Mostly, the characters are developed enough that they feel like real people facing real challenges and this made it easy to finish the book. Unfortunately, the characters do not grow as much as one would expect in a book about how an event impacts one’s life. For example, Deborah does not really grow much as a person. There are some changes, but mostly those are external events that naturally cause a person’s life to change, not necessarily the person. Maybe Deborah did change internally because of these external events, but the reader doesn’t read about those internal conflicts. Again, this is because there are simply too many perspectives in this book. Unless this book was going to be 100 or 200 more pages, it’s simply not possible to develop this many characters and then have the reader inside each one of their heads to truly understand and see the full complexity of how external events are impact them. There is one family where their story is told nearly entirely through the perspective of the mom and she has the most growth of all the characters. This supports my conclusion that there were simply too many perspectives.

I was a bit disappointed that the storylines overlapped, but that was too be expected. It was a bit much that nearly each day covered in the novel was covered from the perspective of multiple families. I understand that it might have been easier to write this way, but I would have preferred to see each families timelines to progress in their own chapters instead of side by side in the same chapter about one particular day. It took me awhile to get used to this style and because of the sheer number of perspectives, it made it even harder to follow the book early on. I can see a decent number of readers bailing because it is just so much to keep track of.

There are two characters whose story did not always feel realistic: Robby and Brett. Robby is autistic and while there are moments when it appears to be an accurate depiction of an autistic person, there were moments when it was less clear. As someone who is neurotypical, I have no basis for determining whether this was an accurate portrayal, so do take my concern with a grain of salt. There were just a few times when it felt more like a neurotypical person writing about her perceived perspectives of a neurodivergent person than truly from the perspective of a neurodivergent person. This is also true with Brett. As she comes to terms with her sexuality, there are moments where her perspective feels more like it is the perspective of a person who has not seriously struggled with her sexual identity than an accurate portrayal. As a woman who has spent much of her life reflecting on and trying to understand her sexuality, her portrayal did feel inauthentic at points; however, I respect that my experience is not the only experience and there may be more truth to this portrayal than I felt there was. But ultimately, it did not feel like there was enough internal conflict to drive her changes.

This book was better than I expected, but was not as good as it could have been because of all the various points of view. If you are interested in reading this book, know that the beginning with be a bit slow going simply because of the number of perspectives. For readers who have difficulties tracking many viewpoints or simply do not like reading many viewpoints, this book is not for you. This book is best for readers who like developed characters and find many viewpoints interesting, even if it means a bit less depth for each character.