When I heard about the novel PUSH and its subject matter (poverty, incest, illiteracy, obesity) I simply had no desire to read it. Certain it would be another negative account of the African-American experience, I decidedly moved on in hopes of more uplifting material.
But then I heard an interview on NPR about PUSH’s upcoming film adaptation Precious. And subsequently read the New York Time’s feature The Audacity of Precious. Then there were the raves from the critics at the Festival de Cannes and Sundance. And of course the interviews with PUSH’s author Sapphire. From these varied sources, I gathered PUSH was an emotionally difficult and complex work that warranted a reading. I wanted to find out just how all of this raw, wretched material could possibly transmute into something so emotionally grand.
One would have to be obese to take on the full figure of humanity, and PUSH’s main character Precious consumes us all in both our glory and our horrifying shame. Precious embodies societal contradiction, and it is to author and poet Sapphire’s credit that we grow to love this hugely unappealing, illiterate, indigent, pregnant girl.
PUSH is beyond tough and has been called “relentless”, “brutal” and “redemptive”. Call it what you will, but PUSH is one of the most difficult pieces of work I have ever read. Intensely graphic, PUSH does much more than that with its in-your-face, hard-core details of incest, ignorance, and the struggle to survive.
To excerpt the book would be futile. This work is so contextual, that any citing would appear pornographic and nonsensical. It is not a pick-up-put-down piece. Though PUSH is written in splintered English and phonetic slang, Sapphire’s words have been carefully selected and each carries its own penetrating weight. Through Precious’s simple poetry it is clear she is not simple-minded. It is through this medium that Precious is recognized as a stand-in for anyone who we as a society are quick to dismiss.
While the back cover carries this quote, “A fascinating novel that may well find a place in the African-American literary canon…” there will be those who won’t see its merit. It could easily be misunderstood. However, I feel PUSH is an important examination of prejudice on a grand scale. More importantly, PUSH reconstitutes our sense of understanding as we bear witness to the Precious flowering of potential under simple acts of kindness.
-Post by Megan Shaffer