Small Great Things26 Jan 2017
I read Roxanne Gay’s review of Small Great Things in the New York Times Book Review before reading the book. After reading the book, I largely agree. This is a book largely written for a white audience, one that doesn’t engage with race and racism in America in any advanced or complicated way regularly. Jodi Picoult even says so much in her author’s note at the end of the book.
Then the question becomes, what do I, as a non-white American, who reads about and thinks about race regularly, have to gain from reading this book? I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two possible answers to this. One, I enjoyed reading the book. Although it is less literary (in terms of writing complexity, nuance, use of symbolism and other literary techniques) than my usual fare, the book is entertaining and fun to read. The pace of action, character building and forward momentum made short work of 400+ pages.
The other possible answer is that I can have all the nuanced, advanced ideas or discussions about race I want with myself or people like me, but it is of little consequence if I’m thinking and talking inside my own safe space. To properly address this conversation, I need to know how other people think, talk and write about this topic. Picoult’s work here represents a journey she went on. My own journey was different from hers. And her readers’ journeys will be different still. But in order for these conversations to progress, we must at least start with common experiences. Reading this book is my attempt at one example of this.
So yes, as Gay says in her review, hopefully future work by Picoult in this vein will be “compelling for the rest of us,” but I found the experience of reading this book rewarding as an exercise in reading and a way to understand how conversations about race are shaped among people not like me.