Reading is one of my chief pleasures. Joe, too. Because of this we are both very particular when we go shopping for books. We like a variety although we have a real love for Nordic crime fiction and historical novels. We are even more choosy when it comes to choosing gay novels and have a good track record of reading amazing books. Dante and Aristotle Discover The Secrets of the Universe, for example, is simply one of the best books we've ever read, gay or straight. When we travel we try to take enough books with us to 'do' the trip. On our last trip to the Maritimes, we ran out. We hopped immediately over to the bookstore after work and I picked up a book, The Desperates by Greg Kearney. It looked like fun.
Somewhere in the book something happened. It was a choice the author made that made him too present in my reading of his writing. I began thinking, not of the book, about about the man who wrote the book. On one page, somewhere in the first third of the book, we are told about a young gay man's experience of bullying in school. The stuff that was there was sadly unsurprising but surprisingly well written. However, on the exact same page, the SAME page, the author uses the word "R#tard" for comic effect. Something he does a few times in the book. Later on he uses another disability negative word, again for humour.
I know, I know, I know, people yatter on an me about how sometimes that word is used to tell us something about the character, sometimes the word is used to be authentic to the speech patterns of a particular group, sometimes the author is using the word for literary reasons. I've had that speech, along with the wagging finger many times over. And because of that, it took me a long while to decide to write this. I thought it through. I don't think that's what was going on here, I think the author genuinely thought it was funny. Worse, he wrote with a kind of surity that we'd all find it funny too.
What really shocked me, though, was the R-words appearance ON THE EXACT SAME PAGE, of a passage that existed to let us know how tough gay kids have it in school, Readers are expected to react with empathy for the gay kid and simply find funny a word which makes school lethal to kids with intellectual disabilities. The same page!!! Only a few lines apart.
Think about it. (Because I sure did.) The R word appears before passages of school bullying, this means that the author must have been gearing up for it, getting ready to writing about school victimization, thinking about all the harm that is done by bullying and in that frame of mind pops out a word that people with intellectual disabilities have stated clearly is HURTFUL and DAMAGING.
Later on in the book when other disability negative words appear, I'm not surprised, numb to them being there. I finished the book because I finish books I start. I could have stopped, but that would have helped the cause how?
Normally when I read, if it's an excellent book, I don't think about the author much. It relate to the story, I get swept along by the narrative and I love the ride. But this time, that decision, to use the R word right before writing about the effect of words on young gay people, brought the author right into my mind. I looked at his picture on the back flap of the book several times. I tried to imagine a conversation with him. I wanted to know why he felt it was acceptable to bemoan the bullying of one while engaging in bullying of another. Why did he make that choice?
He's off my 'too read' list. I feel like I've met him and didn't like him. I feel that if I met him he'd go away and write about fat guys in wheelchairs and get a real laugh out of it. I feel that if I met him, he'd not be interested at all in the effect of disability negative words on my reading experience. These are all assumptions of course, I did try to find way to contact him, I wanted to write him a letter, I wanted to ask him some questions while hiding my fat disabled self behind a computer message. But that wasn't possible.
There are consequences to the things we do and say. It may not be much of a consequence but Mr. Kearney now is filed in my mind as both an author not to read again and as someone who has an egocentric approach to pain - if it hurts me and mine, it's bad; if it hurts you and yours, it's kind of funny.
But the book has been closed for a couple weeks.
Now, with this, the chapter is closed too.