The Kid is Not All Right
It is rare for me not to finish a book. Even when reading books I don't like, I will usually push through just to find out what happens and say I've read it. But if I hadn't been obligated to finish this book, I'd have put Sapphire's The Kid down after 50 pages and never looked back.
When the book opens, "The Kid" in question, Abdul, or J.J., as he is later called, is 8 years old and already experiencing some awful things. We hear his story firsthand as a stream of consciousness that is extremely hard to follow. Between the slang and the disconnected thoughts, I really had to struggle to make sense of what's going on. And when I did make sense of it, it sickened me to the point where I could only read a few pages at a time before I had to put it down and recover.
Throughout the book, you get the idea that Abdul is leading a hard life, but you don't build up enough sympathy for him early on to forgive his transgressions. It's not until much later -- about halfway through the book -- that you start to understand and identify with him. The book also becomes more readable at this point because the stream of consciousness seems to have settled down into a manageable current. There are haunting but well-written side stories told to Abdul and the reader in first-person narration format. You start to see his life and the story come together. But then the end of the novel flies off the handle and everything is once again confused and jumbled.
The middle 200 pages of this book could have been the start of something really just GOOD. It could have been fleshed out in a more appropriate way and turned into another great story about a hard life. But I don't think that was Sapphire's intent. I get the impression -- partly from one of the book's core themes -- that she meant it to be art, and representative art at that. The story is jumbled because the protagonist is jumbled. The book is hard to read because his life was hard to live. You SHOULD want to throw up or throw the book across the room because a lot of what happens is disgusting, horrendous, and awful. But it's real.
The problem with this is that, unlike a picture, which can be taken in in a moment, or modern dance, which only has to be endured for an hour or two, a book takes active participation. And this book is all too easy to put down, to turn away from. I think as art, it is probably wonderful. It tells a story in words and metaphor. It is meaningful and representative and thought-provoking. It may very well be exactly what Sapphire intended it to be. As literature, though, it was just too hard to get past the words, and I can't say it was enjoyable.