After watching The Blindside, I decided that I also wanted to see Precious. I was running with my theme of Oscar nominated movies (although last years Oscars by now). Then I discovered there was also a book that the movie was based on called Push by Sapphire. Already I was hesitant. I tend to have issues with book/movie counterparts when they change the title. It makes me feel like the movie will be vastly different than the written work it’s based on. But I was still committed to this blog at the time (which is laughable because it really doesn’t seem to be the case), so I decided to start with the book.
Sapphire. Push (1997). 192 pages. Vintage. $13.00.
I had assumed that Precious was based on a true story. I’m not sure why I came to that assumption, but I quickly learned that was not the case. The novel Push is actually fiction. It’s about a teenage girl named Precious who has become pregnant by her father raping her, and emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by her mother. She drops out of high school (somewhat kicked out) and ends up in a reform school/GED program for other teenage girls. It’s meant to be tragic for the social conditions Precious lives in, but also inspiring as Precious learns to stand up for herself and grow as a person.
I have to say that I was very uninspired by my book choice and it was very difficult to get through. Luckily, it was short and an easy read otherwise I don’t know if I would have finished it.
The main problem I had with the novel is the narrative itself. The whole novel is narrated in Precious’ voice, which I understand that this is meant to be her story as if she was telling it. However, Precious is a very difficult narrator to follow. She does not give her story any time line, and the stories she retells don’t match up with where she is when she’s telling it. I understand it was maybe meant to be artistic for the writer, but instead it was confusing and frustrating.
The depictions of Precious’ family dynamic is flat out disgusting. Although Precious is just being honest, the details used to describe the father raping her are vulgar and her mother’s abuse is disturbing. I will be the first to admit that I have gentle sensibilities, so it was very difficult for me to read through those scenes (and there are a lot of them).
The other issue I had was how difficult it was to see Precious’ growth. Since it is continuously depicted in Precious’ narrative voice it’s hard to see any actual change, because she still sounds uneducated to the very end of the book. The only aspect that changes is her actions, which somewhat shows a hint of her growth.
I felt that maybe I just didn’t get it. I didn’t feel sorry for Precious, and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to. You feel sorry for her situation, as the reader understands that no person should be abused this way. It is devastating to think there are children with parents such as that. But I couldn’t pity Precious for it. Mostly because she didn’t even understand how wrong her situation was. It wasn’t a book that I appreciated artistically or enjoyed. I rate the book a 1/5.
At this point, I was thinking anything had to be better than the book I read. I wanted to be able to root for Precious, or to even like Precious.
Precious (2009). Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, and Lenny Kravitz. Directed by Lee Daniels. 109 minutes. $19.98.
Thankfully, I did like the movie better. One of the most important improvements was that it had a cohesive, flowing time line. It was easier to see the progression of Precious’ growth, education, and development with having the story told sequentially. It still was in Precious’ point of view, as they had Gabourey voice over a lot of the movie but without any confusion.
The movie also had a great way of expressing visually how Precious saw herself as a person. In the novel, Precious often has daydreams of being a movie star, which always seemed muddled in her narrative. When things would get difficult, she would also imagine herself in a different place. They cut scenes of her movie star self, her imagined white self, and thought processes with scenes happening to her. It worked much better visually than it ever did in the book.
The movie showed Precious’ horrendous situation in ways that were sympathetic but not disturbing. The mother, played by Mo’Nique, was a brilliant performance and rightfully won the Oscar for supporting actress. I even felt sympathetic for the mother’s character which I did not feel at all in the book. I wasn’t super impressed with Gabrielle Sidbay’s performance until the very end.
The movie was much more enjoyable and a better representation of the overall story than the novel was by itself. I would rate it 3.5/5.
My opinion is to not even bother with the book, and enjoy the more inspiring, hopeful movie interpretation.
Sidenote: If you want a novel with a unique narrative voice that is artistic as well as making believable characters that are interesting, I would recommend The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time. I think that this was the kind of narrative that the writer wanted for Push and failed miserably.