Thursday, February 01, 2007

If I finish it, I talk about it...

Jean has cerebral palsy. She's lived her life as though she were normal and now she's at a summer camp for disabled kids, alone for the first time, and about to encounter Sara, another camper who will show her a whole new way to look at the world, and herself.

Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson has a lot of fans. I'm not one of them. It's been popping up here and there on best lists, and I realize I'm probably in the minority here, so I'll get right to the crux of my issue. I felt the author's presence throughout the book. I felt that I was given a naive narrator in order to highlight an exalted secondary character that felt, to me, idealized. Because of the author's presence, it was as though she had cast her adult self as Sara. Jean, the narrator, felt like a foil.

Now, for me, this threw me out of the story and took away from the topic, which is undeniably important. I find it interesting that Johnson decided to set this in 1970. I understand that you have to write the novel that is in you, but I ask if the topic suffers for being almost 40 years out of date. That is, if the purpose of the novel is to show disabled people are no less than anyone, why the setting; was it necessary? If the purpose is to start discussion about the treatment of them prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, cool, perhaps there should have been more on that. Is the book supposed to inspire us to fight for rights? There was definitely an attitude of bitterness and anger often manifesting as rights rebellion, but I don't know how effective or productive the 'stand up for yourself' message was. One does not need to have just one purpose, but in this case, I think that the juggling of so many made them all suffer. And seriously, what was UP with that ending? It just clinches to me the argument that the noble Sara was the real focus of the novel - not Jean, and that Sara is the fictional manifestation of Johnson.

It's not horrible. Really, it's not. I don't hate it. I just don't really like it, either. I felt as though it should have been a memoir; that it might have been more effective for me that way. I recognize that this title speaks to many people; and I'll be able to put it into the correct hands, but give me Terry Trueman any day. All said, the title should be definitely be included in lists for tolerance and disabilities, but it certainly doesn't make any of my best lists. Of course, this is all my opinion, and I know that most of you disagree, but just stop for a minute and think about whether it is the topic, the author or the writing you are praising. Feel free to hate me up in the comments.

5 comments:

Ben Fulton said...

Thanks for the review. I suffered halfway through Eragon before giving it up as a bad job, and I wish I'd found someone to point out how awful it was!

Jackie said...

I really do want to stress that many, many people truly, honestly enjoy Accidents of Nature. I'm far from the last word on it.

MotherReader said...

I kinda agree with you. I thought there was a degree of insight offered into their world, but I thought that view inside suffered greatly by being set in 1970. But of course, that's when it had to be set because that's when the author was in such a camp. Not a best read for me either.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I couldn't even finish this one to be honest. It felt preachy to me in a sense, like I was being told what I should think instead of being allowed to watch things unfold, get to know the characaters, and come to my own insights.

Jackie said...

Another good point, Anonymous.