Book Review: "You Should Pity Us Instead"

You Should Pity Us InsteadYou Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The writing itself is top flight, and every story pulled me in immediately. Three of the stories will stay with me. The first is "Goldene Medene" which takes place at Ellis island. A doctor who is supposed to be inspecting strictly for eye disease and insanity has "vision" and emotional issues of his own, his mind being on a love interest who snubbed him. His mood carries over with perhaps disastrous results for three people trying to get through to a new life in America. The second is "An Uncontaminated Soul", a story about a woman who, after her husband's suicide, becomes a stereotypical crazy cat lady. It's the best in the collection, in my view. The third is "Prisoners Do" (live on bread and water) about a man taking care of his wife and family after the wife's stroke leaves her disabled, at the expense of his own needs. Also good was "AKA Juan" about a black man adopted by a white family.

So, why just two stars? Because of two stories, both in the latter part of the book, and both dealing with characters' cruelty to innocents because of their own issues with someone else. "The River Warta" could have been a good story, about a woman who immigrates to the U.S. from Poland at the turn of the 20th century, but the horror story ending was unexpected and distressing. Suffice to say, she reveals that she decided to leave Poland because of her damaged parents taking out their mutual hatred on each other's cat and dog. This is the sort of stuff I don't need in my head and I felt it was way too far over the top to have any literary justification. This was the 9th of 11 stories and really blindsided me. I decided right then that this book was going in the circular file as soon as I finished, but hey, just 2 stories left, so press on. Mistake.

The story in between--"When We're Innocent"--was kind of strange, and left me feeling like "what was the point of all that?", but wasn't so bad. Then came the final story, "Half-Life" which is about a nanny who targets an unsuspecting family for revenge because she has an ax to grind with the woman's father, a judge. So, naturally, she practices cruelties on the 5 year old and the baby. This one I had to skip some of, I just couldn't justify reading it. I don't think anything about the story made it worth reading such stuff. Yes, life is horrible sometimes, and people do horrifying things, but when you're writing literature, it had better have a reason for being written about that transcends the mud and cruelty.

I gave this two stars for the 9 stories that were pretty good, but in all honesty, I would never recommend this collection to anyone, and because of the two stories near the end, I really give it zero stars. Yes, it's well written, but that doesn't counterbalance the subject matter. Ugh.

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hedgewitch said…
There seems to be quite a fashion in writing so-called 'bestsellers' these days, that if you can't shove in some of what I call torture-porn, you aren't serious--I think it is prurient, cheap and basically evil, and no great writer has ever done it. There are better ways to get the point across. It's one thing to weave cruelty and misery and inhumanity into your story as plot elements--it's another to gloat in slo-mo over the details and provide no real justification for them except titillation of the worst 'can't-look-away' sort. I don't know if this book is on that lowest of levels, but I also don't intend to read it and find out. As always, Shay, a well-written review that tells us everything important about the book.
Fireblossom said…
Thanks for the excellent comment, dear BFF.
Sioux Roslawski said…
Shay--I'm curious. What drew you to this collection? Did you read the first few lines of the first story, and that lured you in? Is this an author you're fond of?

I usually stay away from short story collections unless it's an author I love.

And probably--for the same reasons you disliked the stories--there are some (sick) people who would love the cruelty and would be slobbering for more.

Thanks for the review. This book wasn't even on my radar, and now I can pass it up without even a second glance.

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