The next book I just finished from lovely “SaveTheCulture Initiative is Jane Smiley’s “Ordinary Love and Good Will”. I read edition from 1998 only entitled “Ordinary Love”. It is not a novel that has one story line, but a combination of two books in one, both with a similar theme: family and everyday life. You are guessing already, I loved it.
Because of the way book is written it reminded me of one of my favourite films of all times, Crash, in which people are not related nor they ever meet but we follow their stories. Just like in this book, Crash is also telling us that we all have similar or same goals even if we never meet. In that, both film and this book are trying to uncover the true human quest for security, family and love.
In this wonderful book, we first meet a mother who is trying to raise her children and live a peaceful life with them, after not being together for a period of time. She was cheating her husband and he took the children away. It took a long time to get them back, and one of the twins then decided to go to India to live there for a while. The story starts when he returns home, but only for a short time for his new job is taking him elsewhere again. One of the most remarkable things the mother says is, “I have given my children the two cruellest gifts I had to give…the experience of perfect family happiness and the certain knowledge that it could not last”. Indeed, they were a perfect family until the father took the children, and later on when children came to their mother this grim past had an effect on their relationship.
But, the story is ultimately about the mother who narrates her life, events and thoughts telling us about her longing for a perfect family life and obstacles that could or could have not been prevented. In essence, the story is a brilliant reflection piece showing us how people reflect and deal with everyday choices.
The second story introduces a father who returned from war and built a house in the valley, and separated himself and his family from the rest of the world. The choice he made had an impact on his son who became a racist continually attacking a black girl when she came to live to the small town in which he attended school. Annabel is the daughter of two University professors and has everything material world can offer to children. Tom, on the other hand, has nothing as he lives like a lonely wolf with his parents in a valley with no electricity let alone TV, nice clothes, games or any entertainment other than books, which he does not like to read. He thus destroys Annabel’s new things, e.g. new coat, new toy she got for her birthday, and ultimately burns her house to destroy TV and a satellite dish. His father tried to punish him for first two destructions, by making him work with him to pay off the damage but it did not work. The warning signs were everywhere with Tom complaining against oversized and old fashioned clothes, reading books as the only entertainment, not being able to go to the Church with his mother for his father as an atheist would not wait in handling ponies Tom liked so much, not having a TV, etc.
After Tom burns Annabel’s house because of her TV and the satellite dish, the welfare department forces parents to provide a different care and attend collective therapy, as well as move to town and find jobs. The father narrates this disappointingly, and throughout the book we learn Tom has not learned racism at home. Not only his parents were not racists and have found Tom’s persecution of a black girl shocking, his father secretly falls for her mother albeit he never admits this or acts on this love. But, as the teacher said, it was enough for Tom to see someone else looking different like he does but with that someone different having everything while he had nothing to instigate jealousy that eventually had to be treated with therapy. It is quite clear that Tom has learned racism in school because he justified first incident with Annabel being a ‘nigger’, and said he heard teachers using this word.
Ultimately, this story in the book shows how even children who did not grew up in racist homes (it is very clear in the book that neither of parents are racists) can become ones, if society explains to them that people of different race are inferior. In that situation, Tom genuinely thought it is not right that he does not have anything while Annabel has everything. This is despite Annabel’s parents being highly educated and successful with his parents making a choice to live in poverty to achieve a life freed from material possession, which they saw as a spiritual retreat. In other words, instead of turning hatred to the failure of his parents to provide him life style due to their own moral choice to abandon the material world, Tom turns the hatred to the innocent girl simply because she had parents who wanted to comply with requests of the material world and make success out of it, and they dared to be different.
This can only show us that no matter we do, no matter how hard we work to achieve what we get, racists will always hate and think they deserve more even if they have never made any effort to better themselves. And somehow it will always be the victim’s fault. This is because racism is deeply embedded in human societies (certainly not just the American one) and when we achieve some progress we cannot relax and think that the cultural war is over. Racism is a continuous plight that must be stopped and monitored every day. Otherwise, we will live in societies with Far Right politicians who are seducing people with irrational hatred inciting them to blame the different for their own failures, until the end of the world.
Thank you for reading.