Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ellen Douglas--Can't Quit You, Baby (1988)

In Dirt and Desire, Patricia Yaeger uses the central metaphor in Douglas's novel, in which a young, carefree girl unknowingly water-skis over a nest of snakes.  Can't Quit You, Baby, is primarily the story of Tweet and Cornelia, an African American woman who works as a maid for the upper-middle class white Cornelia.  The narrator returns to this metaphor from time to time, showing Cornelia alternately skating over the surface of things or, alternately, turning down her hearing aid as a way of submerging herself in silence.

This is not just the story of their friendship, but of their own individual lives and how they intersect.  Their stories are told going back to their childhoods, showing how their lives have reached this point.  Cornelia escapes a domineering mother for a happy marriage which ends tragically when her husband dies suddenly of an aneurysm.  Tweet's happy childhood with her grandfather is cut short with his death, which leads to her marriage to Nig, and older man who makes her happy enough, though he runs around on her.  By the end of the novel, Cornelia has realized what a significant part of her life Tweet has been, and is in the process of trying to make it up to her.

Several times the narrator makes her presence known by overtly referring to her position in the narrative.  Her comments emphasize the problems of both portraying as well as critiquing relationships such as that between Cornelia and Tweet.  I find this particularly key right now with the discussions going on about The Help, a novel which attempts to portray similar relationships, but claims to convey the voices of black women in an unmediated fashion.  In contrast, Douglas's narrator points out the fact that she is incapable of getting inside of Tweet's head, that all she has been able to present is what Tweet has told Cornelia. 

No comments:

Post a Comment