Monday, January 20, 2014

First Fail of the Year

Careful readers know that I had intended to read Mary Poppins after seeing the very, very good Saving Mr. Banks at the local cinema. I was embarrassed to admit I'd not ever read it, but felt much better when I discovered on our way back to our car after the credits rolled that my husband had never even seen Mary Poppins, the movie. 

I knew I didn't have a copy at the shop. I added it to our next incoming order so I would have something light and happy to look forward to after reading a couple of novels that were exquisitely good, but which had done a number on my heart.

Sad to say, my copy of P.L. Travers' childhood favorite didn't make it to the shop, thanks to an understandable albeit infuriating bit of human error.  (Not mine, of course. I am perfect.)

I had to find something on the shelves, then, to break the dark mood of my home library, so picked a novel that seemed to offer lighter fare. It's a novel about Gold Star Mothers traveling to Europe on the government's dime in order to visit their son's graves there. Everything I read about it sounded like a story with heart and soul, but one that would leave me refreshed.  And, more importantly, one I might be able to handsell more easily to some of my "kinder, gentler" customers who have begun to fear that I have a number of screws loose owing to the books that bear my STAFF PICK stickers.

I'm not going to name the book. I'm not going to tell you who the author is. If you care, you'll be able to figure out. You may have read it, and loved it, but I just had to quit reading it for one of those reasons I have: an anachronism. I know, I know. Sue me, but that kind of thing bugs the tar out of me, as does a writer who doesn't trust me enough to understand how sad or unfortunate something is, so they create a scene that spells it out with a 2 x 4 for me.

Here's what this author did. She/he set up a group of women, just after WW1, strangers who would meet to travel to Europe together, sharing the common bond of having lost a child to war. It turns out that one of the women, an older African-American woman whose son was killed, is put in the wrong group of travelers because her name is so similar to a white woman who should have been assigned instead. In a beautifully subtle scene, we first meet her when she's standing just outside a waiting area, and is encouraged by another member of the party to enter the room. There is some understandable resistance from the African-American woman -- understandable because this was Jim Crow America, when neither equality nor equal access was the law of the land  or the custom of the times.

Not much farther along, though, the error is discovered, and the African-American is asked to come to the office of the person responsible for this undertaking, and is told that there was a mix-up: she should be with another group of Gold Star mothers waiting in Harlem... and that there is a woman there who should be with the group here.

And then the African-American woman gets up in this guy's face and says she knows why:  SEGREGATION.

This is where the writer lost this reader.  There is no way that an African-American woman, described as a grandmotherly type, at this time in history, would have acted this way, or spoken this way -- as much as we might support what she said and how she said it.

Just. Would. Not. Happen.

The only thing I can think is that the author wasn't sure that I was understanding what was going on.

She/he was mistaken.

On to the next book.

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