Tag Archives: Sapphire

Of Push, Precious, Percival, and “My Pafology”

by Latoya Peterson
erasure

The reality of popular culture was nothing new. The truth of the world landing on me daily, or hourly, was nothing I did not expect. But this book was a real slap in the face. It was like strolling through an antique mall, feeling good, liking the sunny day and then turning the corner to find a display of watermelon-eating, banjo-playing darkie carvings and a pyramid of Mammy cookie jars.

—Thelonious Monk Ellison (Percival Everett), Erasure

I knew that before I wrote a word on what I felt about Push and Precious, I was going to have a problem.  One, my personal experience colors a lot of my perception of the novel and the movie.  While Precious’ narrative is not close to mine (I’m way closer to Lola, from Oscar Wao) there were lots of notes of familiarity.

A few too many for comfort.

In discussions with the Racialicious crew, Thea and I actually got really close to parsing out why I feel so strongly about the work.

Thea wrote:

On the topic of African American lit…I am reading Don’t Erase Me right now by Carolyn Ferrell.

I guess it is supposed to be stories of black girls in the ghetto. The stories I’ve read so far are all about incest. So this trend is starting to bother me. Though I guess it could just be what I’m reading…

I wrote back:

It’s not really a trend if it happens a lot.

My sister and I were *not* molested by anyone growing up.  That made us a rarity.

Carmen pointed out that works that do feature incest and black people (like The Color Purple, The Bluest Eye) do tend to get critical acclaim and recognition, and wondered why that was. I  thought that the issue may be that white reviews, book publishers, etc, only know how to respond to black dysfunction, but that doesn’t erase the fact that so many of us go through this type of abuse.

Then Thea got all MFA on us, writing:

Just to clarify I didn’t mean that I thought sexual abuse was a trend. That would be a pretty awful thing to say. It’s more that I’m reading a deluge of books for an AfAm lit class that are about incest, or about black dysfunction in the inner city.

It’s distressing because while I don’t doubt for a second that this happens and that this is something that needs to be talked about and talked about until it stops happening, I am also quite sure that there is a lot more to being poor and black in the city than incest and family dysfunction. Continue reading

Reveling in Bleakness

by Guest Contributor SLB, originally published at PostBourgie

In grad school, I took an elective called Autobiografiction in Black, a course in first-person narratives illustrating a broad pastiche of Black life. The first novel we were asked to read was Sapphire’s Push. I read it in three days, growing more and more uncomfortable by the page. I had to take long, cleansing breaks after certain passages. Other times, I sat covering my mouth in disbelief at the central character’s myriad disfortunes. When the book finally ended, I wanted to hurl it across my apartment. My skin crawled for days and I felt betrayed by my professor. What possible reason could she have had for choosing this novel as the initial reading for her course?

Push is the story of Precious Jones, an obese and illiterate teen whose mother and father are sexually, physically, and emotionally abusing her. As a result of routine father-daughter incest, she is the mother of one child with Down’s Syndrome and is pregnant with a second. These horrifying occurrences are just the beginning of Precious’s troubles, but it’d behoove you to read the book to find out what else is going on.

Suffice it to say: Sapphire is relentless in her portrayal of this girl, who joins a literacy class and begins to slowly peek out from the cracks of her dark, shattered life and find a few rays of light.

People who love this book will tell you that it’s a triumphal story of hope in the face of brutality and despair. And it is. But for me, hope appeared too late in the work and retreated without a satisfying enough redemption for our heroine. I couldn’t stop mourning her abundance of tragedies, no matter what brief victories she won.

So when I found out Push was being adapted for the silver screen, I cringed at the prospect of revisiting Precious’s bleakly rendered world. I dreaded watching in technicolor all the awful things I’d imagined while reading. And I reeeally didn’t want to return to the hollowness that haunted the ending. What possible reason would Hollywood have for further dramatizing an existence as heinous as Precious’s? Continue reading