Speak Up

Posted: February 14, 2013 in On Novels, Uncategorized
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“The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt.” – Ayn Rand

Only in the plains of Nebraska have I ever seen such a scene as this: in the middle of Winter, the sky is divided in two. About 1/4th of it is blue and sunny, but that part is far off in the distance. The part that hovers over me, of course, is gray and lifeless, and snow lightly drifts down to earth. Two completely contrasting behaviors coming from the same sky. What a sight. I thought of this as I read a part in Laurie Anderson’s novel “Speak”, where Mel is talking about Winter air being easier to breathe.


The novel in its entirety feels gray. I don’t mean this in a negative sense, I mean Mel’s drifting through a painful day-to-day existence just feels.. gray. It isn’t purely dark, but there isn’t much light either. The whole novel is stuffed with some powerful and clever images: cracked, dry lips; a dead tree having its branches trimmed away; bare, white walls. There are very few moments of the sun peering through the clouds when it comes to this novel. In the past, I’ve talked about books being able to teach us to better empathize with people. The high school version of me would probably have read the synopsis to “Speak” and rolled his eyes, chalking this up with the likes of Twilight and other generic teen-girl books. Thankfully, the college-me has a little bit more sense, and despite the serious subject matter, actually enjoyed this book quite a bit (I’m talking in the third person still, what the what).

I’ll tell you one thing, this novel pretty much reaffirmed my hatred for middle school. And my hatred for parents in books. No parent in any novel ever has ever listened to what their child has to say, it seems, and it gets pretty tiresome at times. Apparently every parent ever is a self-absorbed asshole with the biological capability to have kids but the maturity of a whining 13 year old. Current parents and parents-to-be alike: if you ever saw scratches on your child’s wrist, and said “I don’t have time for this”, there are no words awful enough to describe what you deserve to have done to you. Principals and guidance counselors and parents are supposed to be helpers. Children are supposed to feel safe in a school, but the sad fact is that many don’t. In a school system that favors popular kids and that puts empty-headed coaches in teacher’s places, how are kids who aren’t like Nicole supposed to feel like they can get through to anyone? Plus, I’ve always questioned the humanity of In-School Suspension. In the novel, it’s a solid white room where you are forced to sit. In my school, it was a pink room, and I was only in there once.


 *spoiler alert: vulgar language ahead*
I fucking hated middle school, because I was surrounded by idiotic, superficial, and moronic people not unlike the characters in “Speak”. People who are only concerned with their own interests, their own gains, who spit on anything remotely unfamiliar. One would think that if Mel’s friends were indeed such good friends, maybe they wouldn’t have invited her to a high school party in the first place. Or maybe they would not be all pissy over her calling the cops on a party that they didn’t even throw, and didn’t even get caught at. I want to crack all of these characters in their teeth. You would think at least one person in this damn world would have the common sense to notice that Mel’s introversion is not just teenage angst and that there is more there. I know it would have made for a much different novel, and it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do, but I found myself wondering how the book would have ended if she had killed Andy’s worthless ass with that glass shard.
I have never been one for shying away from gritty realism. Sherman Alexie’s book is often attacked for freely mentioning masturbation, and this book has faced the same thing because of a rape scene. News flash to these sheltered, yuppie fools: this is real life. This is the life we live. These things happen. You plugging your ears and stomping your feet doesn’t change the  fact that the world can be an ugly place. These scenes might make people uncomfortable or make them squirm, and I think that’s a great thing. People need to squirm. When you’re so sheltered that you try to change every instance of the word “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn to “slave”, we have a serious problem. Sweeping something under the rug doesn’t get rid of it. It only makes a bigger mess. This is why we must speak for those without the voice to do so. Rachel’s complete and total disbelief of Mel drew the line for me – I wanted nothing more than for Mel to deliever a tremendous middle finger to all of her former “friends”.
  1. […] week’s second blog was inspired/sparked by Jeff’s blog titled “Speak Up.” Sidenote—if you haven’t read Jeff’s blogs, you […]

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