This past August, I read Sapphire’s novel, Push. It is an incredible story–brutal, heartbreaking, and inspiring. More interesting and impressive, its prose is provocative and, toward the end of the novel, becomes highly stylized. Here is the first paragraph:
I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver. That was in 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She’s retarded. I had got left back in the second grade too, when I was seven, ’cause I couldn’t read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf’ grade so I can gone ‘n graduate. But I’m not. I’m in the ninfe grade.
I was skeptical, at first, of the language; I thought it perhaps sentimental and exploitative. But Precious’s voice is so compelling, I read on, captivated. Her story demands reading. Her story is reading–what it is to be illiterate, to struggle with words on the page, to come to terms with those words, to find a reason to want to use words at all, to have a voice, to use that voice, to put that voice on paper. The novel is a linguist’s dream, a postmodernist’s happy discovery.
And now, Push is a movie (produced by Oprah and Tyler Perry). Opening tonight in only four cities, Precious stars Gabourey Sidibe as Precious, Mo’Nique as her mother, Mariah Carey as her social worker, and Paula Patton as her GED teacher. The Examiner reviews it here, and, in “Howls of a Life, Buried Deep Within,” A. O. Scott, for The New York Times, favorably says, “I will leave it for others to parse the truth or the timeliness of this message. But ‘Precious’ is, in any case, less the examination of a social problem than the illumination of an individual’s painful and partial self-realization. Inarticulate and emotionally shut down, her massive body at once a prison and a hiding place, Precious is also perceptive and shrewd, possessed of talents visible only to those who bother to look. At its plainest and most persuasive, her story is that of a writer discovering a voice.”
Watch the trailer. See the movie, if you live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta. Read the book. And listen to director Lee Daniels’s incredible story on Fresh Air, here. No stranger to abuse, Daniels shares how his cop father (who was once Muhammad Ali’s bodyguard) beat him for walking down the stairs in his mother’s high heels. He shares how his father was brutally murdered in the line of duty, taking two shots–one in the leg, the other in the shoulder–before taking one to the head. He shares how they came to cast Gabourey Sidibe (redeemingly), after explaining how he first approached 300+ pound women in McDonalds restaurants and Radio Shacks.
If all of this, all of it, isn’t storytelling at its finest, I don’t know what is.