Monday, February 16, 2009

Proof of God/Black Betty

I guess I always pick stories based on the first sentence or two. Proof of God sounded interesting, It was set in Kentucky and the story began when a 16 year old, Simon, was given his first car by his father. The story went on to describe the father as a man who was very concerned about what others thought of him. Prestige was important. He owned his own business, a small chain of furniture stores. The furniture looked good on the outside, but was cheaply madewith veneer and chipped wood. The father had big expectations for Simon, and wanted him to go to college. If Simon met his expectations, he could work for his dad. Simon was not that interested. Simon was quiet without many friends. Right after he got his car, he received some attention from some popular football players. They went out and appeared to have a good time. Simon came home with mixed feelings of "joy and torture all at once". The next morning Simon's dad found the car defaced with "fag" painted all over it. His father was upset with him for the ruin of the car, but Simon deflected the anger by alluding to jealousy of the boys for Simon's Corvette. His father seemed happy about that. Simon's mother was described as a housekeeper who catered to her husband and son. She cooked and cleaned, and tried hard to keep everything happy all the time. Simon remembered her lovely singing voice, and she often would sing when working. In the story, nothing was mentioned about either parent talking to Simon about how the incident affected him. His dad seemed concerned to mainatain the propsperous image. His mom seemed to have her head in the sand. Simon during a reflective time, mentioned in the story that he knew his mother was the only one who ever really loved him. The story skipped to his college days. Simon struggled with his sexuality. He met a friend, Marty and they became close. Simon did not tell Marty how he felt. They did not socialize much outside of themselves. At one point Marty told Simon he needed to get out more. He convinced him to go to a party. While there they met a girl named Fish. Marty slept with her, which upset Simon. Later Marty realized that Simon had never been with a girl. He arranged for them to go to Fish's dorm room. During the course of the night, after smoking weed, Marty had sex with Fish, then encouraged Simon to take a turn. Simon did not want to, but did not want to reveal his feelings. He tried to fake it. Fish began screaming and in the end a murder was committed. Simon was afraid Marty would betray him, in the end Simon betrayed Marty. Simon told his dad who helped him cover up the incident and maintain his innocence. Simon did not ever real his sexuality.
Both Black Betty and Proof of God dealt with issues of stereotype and prejudice. Black Betty covered many areas, including race, social standing, culture and gender. Proof of God covered gender, culture and social standing. In Black Betty the issues were obvious to everyone involved. There was direct confrontation and no hiding. Everyone knew who was black or white, rich or poor and what the social standing and expectations were. There was one instance where this was not true. Detective Lynx was a white man married to a black women. Easy was surprised by this. It was not a hidden fact, just not brought up by Lynx. In Proof of God, it seemed that everyone had their head in the sand. Simon never openly discussed his conflict with his sexuality. He let his father believe it was okay by mentioning the sexual encounter with Fish as though it was a normal college boy thing. His mom was not mentioned much, but kept her head in the sand. His father even fooled himself about his business and level of prestige, by thinking his furniture was viewed as high quality by others. I believe the veneered furniture over the chip board was representative of the way the characters all lived their lives. There were sexual crimes in both the novel and the short story. Both Fish and Betty were treated like possessions, Betty by Mr. Cain, and Fish by both boys. However in Black Betty, Betty also treated men like possessions. I thought the novel was a good length. All the time was needed to tell the story, but it did not drag out or suddenly end. I liked this novel. I did not like the short story. I was ready for it to be over. I thought it was a little draggy in the middle. It was depressing and no one came out victorious, except to an extend Marty who accepted responsibility.
The author of Proof of God was Holly Goddard Jones. She alluded to the plight of the oppressed housewife who gave up her talent and dreams to stay at home, maybe more than a man would. A man may have made the father a little harder on Simon in the end.

I have to say that Black Betty made me had an affect on my behavior. I work part time in a nursing home as a therapist. There is an elderly black man, who suffered a severe stroke a long time ago. His side is contracted, he can barely move one arm, and he can't speak legibly. His mind is very alert. He is receiving therapy to help him move his arms and legs. He has been yelling out and trying to jerk away from all the therapist, including me. After reading the novel, I thought about his age and his likely history with white people. I thought of the distrust and fear felt by Easy when he felt helpless before the white policemen. So I spent extra time talking to this gentleman. I called him Mr. ___ rather than by his namfirst name, and tried to show him some extra respect. I went extra slow, and explained each step, asking permission before I went on. In the end, we had a good session and he even smiled at me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mary -

    Wow - I think it is really great that as a result of Black Betty you had a raised awareness towards your patient. Your compassion and care will go a long ways to helping him and will have a positive impact on others. :)

    I have "Proof of God" on my read list, too. I enjoyed your write-up and am looking forward to the read. With kids of my own, I can see how parents can leave emotional scars as they try to make it through life and raise kids too.

    Nicely done :)