I just logged into GoodReads to mark that I’d started reading Mildred Pierce by James N. Cain. I’d long ago seen the movie version starring Joan Crawford and didn’t care for the people involved. It never occurred to me that the film may be based on a novel or that the novel may be very good in spite of the essentially grim characters who people it. But when Laura Lippmann mentioned offhandedly that the book was “quotidian” I downloaded that sucker from the library. I adore quotidian stories, because I love the stories of everyday people having every day lives and making it through their everyday battles. I love Maeve Binchy’s stories where the issue is “how do we earn enough for jam for tea?” and “how shall we brighten this dreary shed in the garden?” Those are the kinds of stories that hide in the skin of all of us and those conflicts are oddly satisfying to see resolved. Add to that usual fascination with the beauty of the ordinary the fact that lately I’ve tired of the endless parades of stories about What The King Is Doing Tonight. All of the top books–and even some of my favourites–are about bloodshed and kingships. All the conflict is intense and bloody and world-changing. I was in the mood for some “let’s see how a normal person pays her mortgage”. And so…quotidian book, here I come.
I’m about 40% of the way through the story now, and just thought to log it in GoodReads before I forgot altogether. When I got there I saw that a GR Friend from a Christian Reading Group had given the book two stars. No explanation was appended; the two stars were all the friend was going to say. After three years of seeing this person remark upon books, though, I had a fairly good idea what the issue was. And while this person didn’t address it directly others did. They didn’t like the book because the characters drink. The characters get divorced. The characters have sex outside of marriage.
IS THE BOOK GOOD? IS THE STORY WELL-WRITTEN? ARE THE CHARACTERS REALISTIC?
Those are reasons to dislike a book. Yes, I have my prejudices. I know that I personally have trouble with a book when an animal is in jeopardy. I can’t get into a book if none of the characters are at all likable. Those may not be fair prejudices but I own them and I admit them when they affect a review.
I’ve read countless reviews from other Christians where well-written, masterful works of fiction are given a poor grade because the occasional “foul language” shows up or the characters do something that Good People Don’t Do. I used to just chalk it up to the cost of doing business in a vacuum but now I think I’m truly over it.
I’m over people who can’t appreciate the beauty of a thing, the essential good in the thing simply because the thing isn’t perfect. There’s that old saying about perfect being the enemy of the good and it’s never more true than when some Christians evaluate stories. These folks think that standing ground and frowning upon humans acting human in story is what God would want from them. The same God who loves them in spite of their flaws…
This book is well-written. I know it is because I don’t think the characters are especially likable but the story has exacted such a pull upon me that I can’t put it down in spite of the characters’ basic baseness. This is not a two-star book, quality-wise. It’s a story of how flawed humans get through life. It’s the story God has read billions of times since our creation. Rating books is not an exercise in censorship.