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