Across the Page: From Page to Screen

 
 

This month’s Across the Page includes three books that
feature lesbian or bisexual characters and that have made it to the big screen:
Sapphire’s Push, a harrowing
coming-of-age story about a teenager who turns to words in an attempt to
survive her abusive past; Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s
Mask
, an erotic murder mystery told in verse; and Ernest Hemingway’s
controversial posthumous novel The Garden
of Eden,
about a young couple whose marriage is challenged when they invite
another woman into their relationship.

Push by Sapphire (Vintage)

At sixteen-years old, Claireece Precious Jones (Precious),
the narrator of Sapphire’s debut novel Push,
is illiterate, obese and pregnant for the second time with her father’s
child. 

Her first child born of incest has Down syndrome (“Down
Sinder. She’s retarded”) and was conceived when Precious was twelve.  Precious’s own mother is not much
better—physically, sexually and emotionally abusive, she often refers to her
daughter as a “Slut! Nasty ass tramp!”

The treatment Precious suffers under both hands is graphic
and brutal to read, particularly because it is written from her perspective and
in her language—“How you gonna marry me and you is my daddy,” she thinks during
one of the rape scenes. “I’m your daughter, f**king me illegal. But I keep my
mouf shut so’s the f**king don’t turn into a beating.” 

Life begins to slowly and unexpectedly change for Precious when
she joins a pre-G.E.D program and comes under the influence of Blue Rain (“Miz
Rain”), a dedicated and radical literacy teacher who also happens to be a
lesbian.

One of the most important ways that Blue Rain helps Precious
is by encouraging her to write her own story in a journal.  The idea terrifies Precious: “I don’t
remember never doing no writing before. My head spinning. I’m scared.”

But it is here that Precious, away from her abusive family and oppressive
neighborhood, finally finds her voice. Push
is the record of this journey, and the entries track both Precious’s emotional
and intellectual growth as her writing and language develops.

Gabourey Sidibe as Precious in the film version of Push

Precious also finds a connection through various support
groups, a place where she sees her pain reflected in other characters. Sapphire
connects Precious’s ability to articulate herself to her capacity to understand
her experiences.  Her story is
transformative, powerful, and in the end, more tragic than Precious, Blue Rain
or even the reader expected.

Push is also about
redemption and both the small and big steps a person has to take in order to
survive an abusive past.  Though it is
Blue Rain who provides Precious a safe place for this growth, the novel shows
that changing one’s life is often more about self-determination and
enlightenment. 

Sapphire is a poet, performance artist and teacher—all roles
and experiences she uses to make the characters and world of Push excruciatingly authentic.  The novel was published in 1996 and while the
film version has yet to be released,
it won several awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, including the
Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for director Lee Daniels.  Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe stars as Precious
and Paula Patton plays Blue Rain.

The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter (Arcade)

It’s an old adage, but in this case entirely true: the book
version of Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s
Mask
, an erotic murder mystery written in verse, is better than the
movie. 

Lesbian private investigator Jill Fitzpatrick is hired to
find Mickey Norris, a young poet and college student who’s gone missing. Though
Jill is tough (“I like my courage/ physical/ I like my courage/ with a dash of
danger”), she is in for more than she initially imagined when she promises
Mickey’s parents “‘I’ll bring her home.’”

The book takes places in Sydney, Australia,
and explores the darker side (who knew?) of the city’s poetry scene.  Jill stumbles across her fair share of
corruption and sleaze and the case gets even more complicated when Mickey’s
poetry teacher, Diana Maitland, enters the picture.  

Jill is quickly taken Diana’s seduction. “She’s got eyes/
that flirt or fight/ she’s gritty/ she’s bright/ oh Christ help me/ she’s a bit
of alright!” The two begin an affair despite Diana’s marriage to Nick, or “Mr.
Diana,” and their relationship is intense and distracting from the start:

“Style”

In love I’ve got no style
my heart  is decked
out
in bright pink tracksuit pants
it weaves its huge bummed way
through the tables to Diana
she’s reading something
with very fine print
she doesn’t need her glasses
to see me.

As Jill moves closer to unraveling the mystery and receives
disturbing news about Mickey, she has to question everyone around her,
including Diana: “she taught me/ to drop my guard/ close my eyes / and fall over.”  But even here, all is not what it seems.

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