In Defense of American Dirt…and Just Being a Nice White Person With Blinkered Privilege

I’ve just spent the last seven hours on the phone with my therapist, who charges at the rate of $275/hour. I have gone through six boxes of Kleenex, eaten my body weight in bonbons, and was forced to undergo the grueling indignity of cancelling my afternoon hot yoga session. You don’t know the stress I’m feeling. Or maybe you do. But this has been all over the news! (Or rather the news I read. I have heard that there are other problems going on in the world right now. But my therapist told me that I should not be paying attention to this — as it may leave me bedridden for the next six years. As you know, dear readers, I’m highly sensitive to minor vibrations.) I’m so upset that I may even pour myself a glass of pinot grigio tonight. I may not be able to make it to Sunday Funday Brunch or the next girls night out. I mean, I’m just a wreck right now. I thought I would be able to see my stylist to get my highlights done before the end of the day, but I’m just too upset about this whole mess to do anything more than weep on my buttonless tufted chaise longue. So I hope you don’t mind if I let off a little steam. (Trigger warning!)

This has gone too far! I am truly baffled by the controversial response to American Dirt. (Kobe forever!) As a mother who never has the time to read books but who has all the time in the world to supervise my kitchen staff cooking gluten-free meals for my three children (they all have special needs!) and who rats out bad mothers in Park Slope parks (it’s for the safety of the children!), I have not actually read the novel. But as someone who skims 150 books a year and as the host of a podcast (Moms with Too Much Spare Time and Disposable Income), I can say without a doubt that what Jeanine Cummins has done is nothing less than sensational! Even though I have never met Jeanine Cummins, I feel comfortable enough with her to call her by her first name. She’s that good! She speaks to me! She has written not only The Grapes of Wrath of our time, but the Ulysses of last year and the Tortilla Flat of tomorrow. I can say this with some authority because, while I haven’t actually read the book, I have read the blurbs! Blurbs are never wrong! This book simply stands apart — by which I mean that it is falling apart in my hands as I write this because the publisher sent me one of the duds that they could not sell at Barnes and Noble. However, I won’t fault them because the free copy they sent me came with a kind note reading “Please review this favorably. We’re dying here. We really need you to take one for the team.” And if there’s one thing you know about me, I’m a team player!

I don’t care that Jeanine wasn’t a Mexican refugee herself — or even Mexican. The important thing is that she is white like me. Yes, I was one of those 53% who voted the wrong way in 2016. I don’t care! What’s wrong with being Caucasian? I mean, my nanny and my housekeepers are Mexican. I pay them minimum wage, but we have a very positive relationship! A special connection! They say things in Spanish that I don’t understand. Peligro! Ella es una loca mujer blanca. I have no idea what this means, but it’s clearly a sign that my staff of twenty-five will always take care of me. Just as Jeanine cares about Mexicans.

What I care about is her book. (And Kobe! What a tragedy!) While my husband was on the phone talking in whispers with a late night colleague in the other room, and sometimes leaving not long after his important phone calls for late-night appointments that ended at 3 AM (he works so hard!), I was — much like my colleague Zibby Owens — flipping pages in the very white halogen light that I bought for $800 at Crate and Barrel. There was no time to read the book, much less understand it. While I didn’t have time to read the novel, I feel that I came to love it simply by holding it. I couldn’t bear to put it down.

American Dirt is a once-in-a-lifetime read. The sentences about embracing brown necks are so moving. Because that is precisely how I embrace my Mexican friends. I look at their brown skin, marvel in it, see that it is not my white skin, conclude that it is beautiful, and then say to my housekeeper, “Isabella, I will pay you double time today if you let me hug your brown neck.” Jeanine gives me her consent and we then spend the next hour hugging each other, although Isabella does stand frozen stiff for some reason. She tells me not to worry and seems curiously fixated on the clock when we hug. But I know she loves me as much as I love her! This book captures my meaningful relationships with Mexicans so well! The way she writes about Mexicans is so familiar to me! It speaks to me because I have this exact relationship with Mexicans on a daily basis. These characters are so real that they reminded me of my dear Isabella, who often walks into my living room with a fresh tray of smoked salmon and avocado mousse. While there is no chance that I will ever set foot outside of my neighborhood, I felt that Jeannine captured the scenery of Mexico in a way that seems real to me!

So why are so many people absolutely livid?!???!!!?????!!!???!!!??? Perhaps Jeanine’s seven figure advance has the haters jealous. I don’t understand. I mean, my husband makes $120 million each year. Doesn’t everybody?

Why?

Why do people have to be so mean?

(Poor Kobe!)

I’m all for literary criticism. I devour all the women’s magazines and bask in the constant raves. They tell me that every book that’s published is great! What’s so wrong about that? One of our own, a white woman, has produced a stellar, breathtaking work of art. Let her tell her story. White women understand the lives of Mexicans better than Mexicans themselves!

Just holding this book changed my life. Just like a great book should. You don’t have to read a great book. If you hold a book long enough, you start to absorb its power.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Isabella is rolling out my fainting couch. I feel as if the day is shot.

© 2020, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.

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One Comment

  1. Omg @ “Poor Kobe!” I read her comment and that was huge disconnect for me, too. It’s a shame that this book is so hyped up as the “migrant experience” by those that just have no clue of what that really means.

    I truly think it was marketed inappropriately. It should have been portrayed as a quick narconovela read (not to be taken seriously AT ALL) instead of disguising itself as a social justice book.

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