Cathy Day's Reviews > American Heart

American Heart by Laura Moriarty
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2017-books

Because I'm a fan of the author's novel The Chaperone, I "liked" her author page. That's how I got an ARC of American Heart; Moriarity asked if anyone wanted to take a look at her new novel, and I said, sure. I've never met the author.

As I started reading, I had no idea that there was any controversy surrounding the the novel, but as soon as I logged into Goodreads to update my reading progress, I saw what was happening and was immediately reminded of Kat Rosenfield's recent Vulture article.

I'm a 49-year old white, cis-het, Midwestern woman. I'm a writer, a teacher of writing, an academic--much like the author herself. I think of myself as progressive--certainly more "woke" than most of the people with whom I grew up, but maybe not as much as others. Staying woke is why I write and why I teach. I want to learn, I want to do better, I want to be the best human being I can be.

I really do want to understand the point of view of anyone *who has read this book* and believes that it is racist. And I hope you will try to understand my point of view as someone who has read the book and believes that it is not racist.

Moriarty wants us to read American Heart as a novel that's in conversation with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The main character Sarah Mary lives in Hannibal, MO, and her name rhymes with "Huckleberry." Her best friend is Tess/Tom, and she's got a crap parent, too. I taught Huck Finn in my American literature classes for many years because I believe that it gets at the heart of the American problem: institutionalized racism and white privilege, systems that are so woven into the fabric of our society that they've completely warped our sense of what's right and wrong.

Huck believes that turning in his friend Jim (what his conscience says) is what's right, and that helping him escape (what his heart says) is what's wrong--so wrong that he honestly believes he will go to hell for it. Hence that famous, satirical, so-sad-you-have-to-laugh line, "All right then, I'll go to hell."

There are plenty of things wrong with Huck Finn, most egregiously the use of the n-word, Jim's dialect, and the crappy ending, but there are things right with it, too. It always got my students talking and thinking about their own warped consciences. I know that in at least a few instances, Huck Finn gave my students courage to follow their hearts.

My white students, of course. How did my African-American students feel about Huck Finn? This was about 20 years ago. No one ever refused to read it, but I know it made them uncomfortable. And honestly, if I ever get to teach American lit again, I don't know if I'd assign this book again.

Sarah Mary conscience has been warped by the Islamophobia of her family and her culture, and yes, it's hard to read the first third of the book from the point of view of someone who is hateful in the same clueless and callous way as so many Americans. What I *hope* happens when young people and adults read this book is a shock of recognition: Sarah Mary's "casual" Islamophobia is their own.

I also think of this book in conversation with the TV adaptations of The Man in the High Castle and The Handmaid's Tale. While I love the "resistance" subplots of these shows, I also find myself fascinated by the hateful, authoritarian characters who are in power. How do authoritarians think, how do they rationalize their actions, and how does that thinking make its way into the culture and the hearts and minds of the people? Because man oh man, we need to try to understand that so that we can be agents of change.

I remember in graduate school, I wrote a story about a character who believes that abortion is sin. She learns that her daughter has had an abortion and is trying to figure out how to respond. Now, I'm firmly pro-choice, but my character was not, just like so many people I knew growing up, and it felt important to me for that sake of that story to try to understand that point of view.

I remember a woman in my workshop saying, "I'm sure that there are people like this in the world, but that doesn't mean I want to read about them." That was 25 years ago, but I've never forgotten that moment.

Did she mean that:

A.) Should the story be published, she'd opt not to read it?

B.) The story should never be published?

C.) The story should never even be written at all?

Those are the questions I think we're asking ourselves re: American Heart. If your answer is B or C, then I please, help me understand that point of view, because personally, I think that's censorship and very, very un-American.

If you don't agree, that's fine. Let's talk about why. But, like Colonel Sherburn in Huck Finn, I'm not going to engage with a mob. That's the "pitifulest thing" because they don't "fight with the courage that's born in them, but with courage that's borrowed from their mass."

This is a link to a longer, more thorough review on my blog that includes further reading, etc.
71 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read American Heart.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

September 30, 2017 – Started Reading
September 30, 2017 – Shelved
September 30, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017-books
October 1, 2017 –
page 164
October 10, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Marziah (new) - added it

Marziah Karch This is the best review I've read so far. Useful for decision-making on whether or not to read the book, whichever way you position yourself. Thank you!

message 2: by Stacy (new) - added it

Stacy This review is fantastic. Thank you for taking the time to write it and for the content in it.

message 3: by Sue (new)

Sue Finally an intelligent review from someone who actually read the book. Thank you.

message 4: by Anne (new)

Anne Excellent, considered review. I'm looking forward to reading the book. I will write my review when I've read too. Not before

message 5: by Colin (new) - added it

Colin Soder Thank you for your desire to engage others and participate in dialogue. I really like the quote from Colonel Sherburn...that should be twitter's tagline.

James Bauguss Thank you for being a voice of reason. These people anger and scare me. I went to buy the book myself and it’s still not even out yet! Look forward to reading it next week and am really rooting for it to be good.

back to top