Another in an occasional series. Push is a book that I should have read long ago. When it was published in 1997, it eluded me because it came out just days after my mother died. I wasn’t reading much of anything except work-related stuff. My friend Diane Isaacs did email me to let me know that as Precious begins her long, slow climb, she lists the books on her shelf at the halfway house. One of them was Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry.
When the film appeared in 2009, I was deep in multiple projects. It didn’t register until Mo’Nique won an Oscar for her role as the nightmare mother. And still I didn’t read it.
I’m reading it now because I have a presentation to make on Monday that will include references to women struggling to raise children by themselves. My main focus is Lutie Johnson in The Street. Sapphire’s wrenching tale out-horrors all that came before. Precious doesn’t just lack community, she has negative community – a father who rapes her, repeatedly, and fathers not one but two children on her. Classmates who ridicule her to point where she refuses to leave her seat even to use the toilet. And then there’s the mother who has waddled out of such a Grand Guignol of self-loathing that she unloads all her unspeakable horror on her child. That’s the one indefensible aspect of the book — that a woman could subject her own daughter to such torture. Yes, I know dysfunctionality starts at home but still …
For the most part Push offers a stunning portrait of an illiterate, defenseless child attempting to navigate a world for which she is wholly unprepared. Though I understand the purpose, I find the early journal entries with a translation an impediment to the flow of the narrative: “negv (negative)/wh? wh? (why? why?)/must/I li (lie) to misel (myself)/I/must/no (know) the truf (truth).
Overall, Push a tour-de-force.