For those who live under a rock (or overseas, which is more likely), a lady called Jeanine Cummins received an astronomical advance for a novel about suuuuuuffering immigrants escaping from a scaaaaaary Mexican drug cartel into the US where, for some inexplicable reason, the cartel will be unable to reach them. Cummins is a white lady, so she got eviscerated for cultural appropriation.
And… I’m not on Cummins’s side here. Obviously, it’s a shame she received threats. I’m opposed to that. But I understand those who (verbally) attack the novel.
Look, if Cummins had a scintilla of talent, even of the most primitive sort, this would be a different conversation. But she doesn’t.
Cummins isn’t selling a work of art or even a work of entertainment.
She’s selling a feeling.
Her readers want to feel that they are good, woke people who read good, woke novels, care about appropriately woke causes, and are appropriately contrite when encountering suffering minorities.
But Cummins can’t sell them this product.
Because she’s not a suffering minority.
It’s like giving a dollar to a street person and discovering that he’s richer than you and is dressing up poor for fun. So disappointing!
The whole point is to condescend to somebody who’s below you. And Cummins is a white lady, just like you, but richer. It’s got to be aggravating! What’s the point of slogging through a whole book when there’s nobody to slobber over pityingly? The characters? They are not even real!
If you go to a resort in Cancun, you want to buy your souvenirs from a real Mexican person. And if a real Mexican artisan selling his ancestrally indigenous tchotchkes turns out to be Jack from Vermont in a culturally appropriated sombrero you’ll feel duped, won’t you?
So that’s how Cummins’s readers feel.
And even the folks who were never going to read the book have a cause for anger. If you can’t be sure that the sob stories about the horrific suffering Americans inflict everywhere are authentic and their authors can be duly condescended to and patronized, then life loses all meaning!
Yes, writers should be able to write about any characters from any background and blah blah Tolstoy something something. I’m a literary critic, I know all this stuff.
But what Cummins does is writing in the most mechanical sense only.
Her real profession is a purveyor of political experiences.
And in that job, she’s clearly a fraud.