Sometimes I really hate dialect in books. And part of the reason I do is that too often is crosses racial, class, or regional bounds between the author and the character and becomes downright offensive.
As beloved as the Henrietta Lacks book that came out recently is, it made me cringe so desperately to hear how the white author portrayed the Black speech in that book. My girlfriend even asked “She knows they’re speaking English right?”
Dialect is hard to pull off because ultimately, unless the specific words being used are linked to a kind of cultural difference, there’s not always the clearest reason as to why to use it, unless you are purposely trying to portray difference. When English writers channel Scottish speakers, I feel the real disdain.
Only when someone is capturing the language of their own background do I feel ok about it. This book has that real issue of the dialect and accents portrayed coming off as cartoonish and weird.
I am glad I reread this book, but I had been otherwise willing to leave it in my 7th grade past and remember it blankly. I have decided now that I don’t like it.
It’s bland, it’s boring, and it’s ultimately empty, other than hitting at some kind of sentimentalism. And that’s where some research I did became more interesting to me. Why did this book win the 1939 Pulitizer Prize?
Prizes are very rarely about quality, and are often more influenced by a set of other factors based in perception, politics, and mood. So I looked into the other books that were released in the US (and abroad the same year) to try to guess about why a sentimental book written for children won.
Here’s some of the books published around the world:
The Emperor’s Tomb by Joseph Roth – a sequel to a book about the dying of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, written as a kind of final epilogue/elegy to a past now gone.
Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre – a book about a young man almost digging at his skin to make sense of the bleakness of modern life.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – a book about class in an England that is slowly killing off the aristocratic past.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell – a book singing the praises of anti-fascism.
Brighton Rock by Graham Green – a book about the nature of evil devoid of faith.
In America, the books that I found notable were mostly short story collections by Steinbeck and Hemingway, and so maybe the Pulitzer for Novel doesn’t fit that at all. Who knows.
But this year also saw the release of a Pearl Buck novel, who recently won the Nobel Prize, the final posthumous publication of Edith Wharton, Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller, a solid William Faulkner novel, the final, culminating novel of John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy, a roman a clef by John Fante, a writer more influential than good….
My point is that this novel is weirdly not good and overly sugary. I am also hoping we’re not headed down a path where books that clearly are written to escape from the national consciousness or written for kids winning major prizes.