My Sweet Charlie

Review  IMG_1447 My Sweet Charlie by David Westheimer, Doubleday 1965, 255 pages.

FIRST SENTENCE:   Marlene slid tight as she could against the car door, trying desperately to appear as if her sudden movement had nothing to do with the moist, doughy hand now lying flaccid and palm up, like something killed, on the seat a few inches from her thigh.

MOTIVATION for READING:   The Bookies – my IRL book club – chose this for our next discussion.     Amazingly, the library system had (only) a few copies and one was at the library in my town!   What are the odds?

WHAT’s it ABOUT:    Plot summary from  A pregnant white Southern girl and a black New York lawyer, both on the run in rural Texas, meet up in a boarded-up, abandoned house and realize they both need each other in order to survive.

My words:   He’s educated, angry and bigoted.    She’s ignorant, naive and bigoted.    They come to terms…

WHAT’s GOOD:     The setting of mood and sense of place is excellent.    As a reader, I was shocked and pulled into the mindset of this girl – so self-sufficient and morally upstanding despite her ‘situation’.   I was quite uncomfortable weighing her morals against her ignorance and bigotry.   She was so naive!    And racist!   and unthinking!    And I also had to balance the time and place of this book with the fact that it was written in  1965 so it’s ‘current’.    How would the same story be written today?   The language MUST be accurate, yes?    Southern racial attitudes were stereotypical but…  were they?     It was a true mind-wrestle to deal with the multiple N- words and  yet by the end of the book – it was necessary (or was it?!) to the resulting story line.

Ah, that’s the point.   I would give too much away to tell more.

And I must add that both characters transform.     Of course, the title gives much away, yes?

WHAT’s NOT so GOOD:     I think I thought too much throughout this book.       Perhaps that shouldn’t be a criticism;   I’m eager to discuss this with the group.

FINAL THOUGHTS:     This book confronts racial stereotypes and bigotry head on by putting two people together who likely would NEVER ever been in any position to spend that much time just talking.   And yet both situations, separate, were quite real for their time and place.     Very clever, actually.     And, of course, the ending is devastating.

RATING:     Four pie slices.  chesspie

Genre/Category/Major Themes:    Young Adult, Race Relations, Southern Lit, Historical Fiction, Book to Movie

pattydukemsc mscmovie Patty Duke won an Emmy for her portrayal of Marlene in the 1970 movie (unavailable at this time per Netflix).

18 thoughts on “My Sweet Charlie

  1. What a great concept especially with the events and social attitudes around 1965. I remember my mom, who’s from New Jersey, telling me about how she went down to visit my grandma’s family in Louisiana as a child. She said she asked my grandma why the black people had different water fountains and all my grandmother did was shrug her shoulders and said “it’s just the way it is.”

    I feel as though this book is still current, very much so. It is especially apparent at my school where up until recently (maybe last year?) both students and administration made both flagrant and more subtle forms of racism known publicly- like where they housed certain people, etc.

    I personally think that racism is one of those things that will never go away no matter how hard people fight it, maybe I’m just pessimistic. Sure, it may be lessened as to the extremes of public hatred shown but the inner prejudices are still there- even if they aren’t said out loud.

    OHHHHKAY, sorry for my rambling, and this is all just my opinion. Seems like it will be a very charged book club meeting! ; )

    1. and with the last part of my comment, this is not to say that I don’t want it to go away– quite the opposite actually. Every step, small or large, towards collective harmony is worth it. I am just not an idealist and border on being pessimistic. I just feared that I might have seemed. . . bitter (?) in that last thought with giving my opinion so freely.

      Anywho, great review! I think I’ll be trying to get it from the library. Oh boy, don’t mind meeee. 🙂

    2. Rambling is very welcome here. 🙂

      What is most affronting? (is that the right word?) is that I don’t think a girl of 17 NOW could get away with thinking her racist thoughts with such guileless guiltless lack of awareness. I think 17 year olds now know a TON (ie more about racism); kids are smarter now than 45 years ago at that age… am I right? or as my Dad would say, they KNOW more but aren’t MORE mature.

  2. This looks interesting – I’m always interested in how writers handle interracial relations. But bothered (a lot) by the nword. So I can’t decide.

  3. The book sounds interesting. I wanted to respond to historyofshe’s comment by saying that one way to address racism, poverty, and other forms of discrimination is to have discussions and conversations about it. Reading and reviewing books that discuss the subject is one way to take a step towards collective harmony.

  4. I’d like to read it again…haven’t read since high school and forgot some of the plot points. Ditto movie, just remember that both were powerful.

  5. I’m 3/4 done with it now, Care, and I like it quite a bit. The overuseage of the “N-word” bothers me more than anything, but I think a valid discussion that we should mention to our group is if the novel could exist without it? Hmmm…honestly, I don’t think it could, but it still doesn’t make me any more comfortable reading it.

    I agree with you: I’m thinking too much.

    And here’s another question: who do you relate more with? Marlene the white, uneducated racist girl, or Charlie, the black, educated racist man. By basis of gender, we *should* relate with our own sex…however….

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