As for the so-called “woeful inaccuracies” in my book
January 31, 2020 10:48 AM   Subscribe

As a 28-Year-Old Latino, I’m Shocked My New Novel, Memoirs of a Middle-Aged White Lady, Has Been So Poorly Received. (McSweeney's)
"When I set out to write this novel, which takes place in Iowa and centers around 46-year-old Meradyth Spensir and her 8-year-old son Chab, my goal was to shed light on the struggles that white middle-aged women in America face — struggles that I, a 28-year-old Latino man, don’t know much about but I would imagine are pretty tough. And as far as I’m concerned, I freaking nailed it.

For starters, my publisher, who also happens to be Latino, absolutely loved it, along with everyone else I have sent copies of the book to. Ricky Martin called it “a literary triumph.” Antonio Banderas wrote, “Carlos writes about being white and middle-aged and a woman the way nobody else in America can.” And David Ortiz said, “This novel is so totally authentic. I simply loved it,” before adding it to his Big Papi’s Big Reads Book Club. I didn’t send copies of the book to any middle-aged white women because 1) I don’t know any, and 2) I figured that, if Latino men like it, then surely it will resonate with white middle-aged women as well. That seemed like a given."
(Previously.)
posted by rather be jorting (59 comments total) 92 users marked this as a favorite
 
Personally, my favorite line was: "The name Chab was not a typo. There are plenty of 8-year-old white American boys named Chab. I googled it."
posted by rather be jorting at 10:49 AM on January 31 [51 favorites]


I realize she’s Russian, not American, but I think most readers will agree that Russian and American cultures are similar enough that the quote is still appropriate.

This is beautiful.

Also, can I join Big Papi's Big Reads Book Club immediately?
posted by capricorn at 10:50 AM on January 31 [27 favorites]


A Q&A On My Controversial British Novel - by Hola Papi's John Paul Brammer
posted by primalux at 10:54 AM on January 31 [20 favorites]


A Q&A On My Controversial British Novel - by Hola Papi's John Paul Brammer


“Harry looked down at his frail biological son,” I continue, “taking a moment to admire the porcelain whiteness of his skin, a whiteness that reminded him of milk or of his own skin if I’m being honest, and of the skin of his Nan that he only caught glimpses of on the rare occasions he caught her without her Arthurian armor, a white so white that whiteness itself said, ‘This is a bit much, innit.’

😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

⚰️

👻
posted by Conspire at 10:56 AM on January 31 [70 favorites]


Conspire, thank you for sharing your emoji appropriation-response-appreciation journey with us 💞
posted by rather be jorting at 11:02 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


I love this, and want a novella's worth.
posted by Anonymous Function at 11:02 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


A Q&A On My Controversial British Novel - by Hola Papi's John Paul Brammer

I'm fairly certain I've heard actual British people say the thing about Nando's, though.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:03 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


:o sounds like a Big Read, primalux.
posted by capricorn at 11:03 AM on January 31


...before adding it to his Big Papi’s Big Reads Book Club.

that's some spicy mofongo right there.
posted by jquinby at 11:03 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


I'm fairly certain I've heard actual British people say the thing about Nando's, though.

a little plagiarism here and there will have that effect ;)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:04 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


This is great.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:05 AM on January 31


I've tried to read this four times, and I cannot get past "Chab" without bursting an organ from laughter. I'm down to just my medium intestine.
posted by Etrigan at 11:09 AM on January 31 [32 favorites]


I hate to stereotype but every guy I've ever met named Chab is exactly alike, like some kind of weird Chab hive mind.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:11 AM on January 31 [10 favorites]


In addition to the American Dirt situation this is playing off of (which now looks like not just appropriation and general racist idiocy, but also potential plagiarism), there’s another splashy new novel (also hyped by Stephen King!) called My Dark Vanessa written by a white author and backed by a big publisher that was, at the very least, “influenced” by writer Wendy Ortiz’s memoir Excavation. Here’s her reflection on it: “a white woman has written a fictional experience of a subject and publishers find it more palatable, worthy, and marketable than when a writer of color writes it from lived experience.”
posted by sallybrown at 11:19 AM on January 31 [16 favorites]


> I hate to stereotype but every guy I've ever met named Chab is exactly alike, like some kind of weird Chab hive mind.

Like... a chabal? :D
posted by rather be jorting at 11:51 AM on January 31 [37 favorites]


There is just something so completely perfect about “Chab”.
posted by obfuscation at 12:03 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


"Chab" is the absolute funniest thing I've read all year.
posted by grandiloquiet at 12:03 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


I'm retroactively naming both my children "Chab." As one does.

(Also: omg, plagiarism, really? are there links with more details?)
posted by mittens at 12:06 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


I would sign up for Big Papi’s Big Reads Book Club in a hot minute.
posted by jacobian at 12:08 PM on January 31 [8 favorites]


Big Papi's too busy worrying about Smahhhht Pahhhhk right now.
posted by praemunire at 12:25 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


obfuscation: "There is just something so completely perfect about “Chab”."

It almost dangles off the tongue.
posted by chavenet at 12:32 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


From the plagiarism link sallybrown posted:

The theme of exploitation was driven even further home during the book’s recent launch party, held in New York City’s exclusive Greenwich Tavern. In an elegant private dining room, the tables were adorned with floral arrangements wrapped in decorative barbed wire, evoking images of the border, the camps, the cages.

What the actual fuck?
posted by Television Name at 12:35 PM on January 31 [17 favorites]


Oh yeah and the author had barbed wire nail polish to match. Not joking
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:36 PM on January 31 [14 favorites]


Anyway the lesson here is give latinx people a little more credit for being able to call it when something is fucked-up in our direction...we are not completely ignorant of the Signs
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:37 PM on January 31 [25 favorites]


Here's the nail polish w/barbed wire, from a great twitter account and excellent investigative journalist, @AuraBogado
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:42 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


This is so great. One of my favorite things* about the American Dirt stupidity (I tried reading it and had to stop) is the memes. In particular the "writing my Latino novel" on Twitter. Oh man, hilarious. And the sendoffs are continuing too. Entertaining and poignant.

*Well, you know, in addition to pointing out the horrid stereotypes and shining some much needed light on the publishing industry, etc.
posted by gemmy at 12:45 PM on January 31 [9 favorites]


Oh yeah and the author had barbed wire nail polish to match. Not joking

Wait, is this on top of the book tour that featured cakes made to look like the border wall, and the author telling her critics that she knows the pain of the immigration crisis better than most of them because her husband is from Ireland?
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 1:06 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Yeah, on top of all that so...yeah
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:07 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


💀⚰💐
posted by nikoniko at 1:08 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Awesome.

What ever happened to Arthur Golden, scion of the Sulzberger family of New York Times fame, and author of the best-seller Memoirs of a Geisha?

I mean, after he was sued by and settled with a real-life geisha for breach of contract and defamation of character?
posted by Borborygmus at 1:10 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Love those Iowa Rocky Mountains.
posted by emjaybee at 1:27 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


It’s hard to believe the [American Dirt] author & her associated entourage could be that un-self-aware and tone deaf. I mean they were just taking the piss, right? Riiiiight? Please?

Or have I just failed again to let what’s been going on around me, properly adjust my expectations of my fellow humans?
posted by armoir from antproof case at 1:29 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Here's the nail polish w/barbed wire

If you are going to double down, no half-measures, I guess
posted by thelonius at 1:31 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


me, reading the McSweeny's piece: omg, I can't even, this is so damn hilarious, I'm calling every white guy Chab from now on

me, reading the Huffpo piece about American Dirt: omg, I can't even, this is so damn infuriating, I'm calling every white guy Chab from now on
posted by 23skidoo at 2:30 PM on January 31 [18 favorites]


"Lastly, I realize now that menopause is not, in fact, the time in an older woman’s life when she takes a short break from dating men."
posted by heatherlogan at 2:32 PM on January 31 [16 favorites]


The theme of exploitation was driven even further home during the book’s recent launch party, held in New York City’s exclusive Greenwich Tavern. In an elegant private dining room, the tables were adorned with floral arrangements wrapped in decorative barbed wire, evoking images of the border, the camps, the cages.

Photo evidence here, on the author's Twitter account.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 2:39 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Chab Harper Gruene sitting off the tailgate of his MTV. Gruene is his surname, and as traditional for white people in the US, his middle name was chosen by his parents. He's plunking Dublin Dr. Pepsi cans with a beeb gun. "Paolo," he says, "there's no way out of this fucking post oak savannah." He's consigned to a life working at the local Diamond Shamrock off the tiny farm-to-market of my tiny half stoplight home town. And there's nothing I can do for him.

"You can join my calpolli," I tell him, but he waves me off. He's used to eating atole with tortillas de harina, not corn like we Latinos do.

The splang of a beeb off a can. The .5 inch diameter ball of plastic spins off wildly. Chab's thoughts must be spinning like them across the vast expanse of junipers and mesquite and down into the box canyons of our youth. They are seeking dreams of striking oil or wrestling some cows for money. But he's trapped like a Eurycea rathbuni trying to claw its way out of the Odessa Springs.

We our going our seperate ways. My future lies in selling the rubber of my ancestors at my bisabuletio's llantería.

I haven't seen Chab since that last Promcoming Ceremony our Senior year. I remember the stadium lights gloaming in the background. He made Duke of the Raffle. My white best friend.
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:55 PM on January 31 [49 favorites]


Both guys named Chab that I knew in high school were complete a-holes. Thank God there were only two of them.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:34 PM on January 31


I missed the FPP on Myriam Gurba's glorious critique of American Dirt. (David Bowles' explanation of how absurd the book is was also great).

I am now agog and aghast that this taco seasoning packet got published and praised so lavishly. Gurba's point is beautiful made in the McSweeney's satire in this FPP:
I assert that American Dirt fails to convey any Mexican sensibility. It aspires to be Día de los Muertos but it, instead, embodies Halloween. The proof rests in the novel’s painful humorlessness. Mexicans have over a hundred nicknames for death, most of them are playful because death is our favorite playmate, and Octavio Paz explained our unique relationship with la muerte when he wrote, “The Mexican…is familiar with death. [He] jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.” Cummins’ failure to approach death with appropriate curiosity, and humility, is what makes American Dirt a perfect read for your local self-righteous gringa book club.
The memes, oh the memes. "Writing my Latino novel" indeed.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:53 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


spamandkimchi: "self-righteous gringa book club."

"Self-Righteous Gringa Book Club" is the name of my new post-pop-emo-shoegaze band.
posted by signal at 5:58 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the heads up about Dark Vanessa, sallybrown. I was actually just about to put in a pre-order. I am infuriated after reading Wendy Ortiz’s piece in Medium, and I will try and track down a copy of Excavation instead.
posted by arha at 6:15 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


Got as far as

46-year-old Meradyth Spensir and her 8-year-old son Chab

and LOLOLOL
posted by medusa at 6:54 PM on January 31


Then I got to the menopause joke and lost it completely.

Glad to see the thread is filled with love for Chab.
posted by medusa at 7:09 PM on January 31


The "Writing my Latino novel" Twitter thread was generally quite funny, but I completely lost it at this bit, which manages to dig through the stereotypes mocking and come out of the other endas purely absurdist humor:

"The Virgin of Guadalupe stole my lowrider. Again."
posted by kandinski at 8:15 PM on January 31 [11 favorites]


That was hilarious, but if you're a POC soaking in the USian culture of nearly-exclusive white stories, be they male or female, I bet you could pretty accurately create a story where the protagonist is white. Conversely, being white and trying to write about cultures that are woefully underrepresented is extremely problematic. I haven't read "American Dirt" and don't plan to for this reason. Wypipo need to stay in their track.
posted by jwest at 8:30 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


Okay, I have to ask: is there something more to the Chab joke than merely that it's not actually a common name?

My name is from a DLI category IV language, so when white authors try to make up names in my language they get points if they produce anything I can pronounce.

By contrast, Chab seems like it's very nearly there. I bet if I polled a hundred Iowans 90% of them would start like chicken and end like lab, and if I told them confidently enough that it's all the rage in Utah now half of them would believe me.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:02 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Okay, I have to ask: is there something more to the Chab joke than merely that it's not actually a common name?

It's a misspelling of the reasonably common name Chad, and the author is insisting that it's not a mistake. To me (a textbook writer/editor) it reminds me of the kind of name that shows up in a word problem where the person who wrote the word problem was told "Use names from lots of different cultures, please don't just default to using corny wypipo names like Johnny and Susie" but instead of actually researching names from different cultures, they just make something up. Except in this case, the whole thing is flipped and it's like someone made up a name that they felt sounded like a stereotypically white-person name, except it's not actually a name that people are using as a name with any real frequency.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:27 PM on January 31 [8 favorites]


(no offense intended to any Johnnys or Susies)
posted by 23skidoo at 9:39 PM on January 31


The adventures of Chab Wayne, Bruce Wayne's whiter half-brother.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:57 PM on January 31


Oh!

Meredith Spencer!

Ohh!

This is the link that keeps on giving.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:11 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Disappointingly, Chab Spensir does not appear on the roster for Fighting Baseball, the Super Famicom version of MLBPA Baseball. Lacking the naming rights for the MLB players used in the original, the localization folks churned out two leagues worth of gloriously legally distinct non-infringing names like Bobson Dugnutt and Dave Glark.
posted by zamboni at 10:45 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


OMG there are a lot of “Chad Spencers”in the US!

Dying laughing over here.
posted by spitbull at 4:24 AM on February 1


"... a white so white that whiteness itself said, ‘This is a bit much, innit.’"

I feel personally attacked.
posted by panglos at 9:47 AM on February 1


Okay, I have to ask: is there something more to the Chab joke than merely that it's not actually a common name?

My name is from a DLI category IV language, so when white authors try to make up names in my language they get points if they produce anything I can pronounce.

By contrast, Chab seems like it's very nearly there. I bet if I polled a hundred Iowans 90% of them would start like chicken and end like lab, and if I told them confidently enough that it's all the rage in Utah now half of them would believe me.


I've been thinking about this question ever since I read it, but didn't have the internet to respond until now. The joke, I think, is that it is so nearly there, but it will never (for reasonable approximations) be an American name, and I struggle to explain why. English words, let alone names, just don't end with 'ab', and that ones that do aren't very nice: 'grab', 'jab', 'stab', 'drab', 'slab' and 'scab' come to mind, and while there are more, there aren't that many more. The native speaker of American English just doesn't want a word to end that way.
posted by wotsac at 12:39 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


> Okay, I have to ask: is there something more to the Chab joke than merely that it's not actually a common name?

Part of the amusement for me stemmed from how I took it as a meta-joke about how authors writing about people outside their culture sometimes end up far off the mark in selecting names that they think are authentic to that culture, at times with even less effort than it'd take to run a quick google search.

I was also entertained by the intentional misspelling of the much more common name, Chad (which is also often used to denote a jock archetype in contrast to an incel archetype online). The typo-esque nature of "Chab" evokes the frequent online phenomenon of making memes out of typos, to the point where the typos take on their own meaning beyond just being a misspelling of another word, and become an intentional sic form of slang all their own.

And it just sounds funny to me. Chab!
posted by rather be jorting at 3:26 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]


Basically. Like Ford Prefect, but also simultaneously making fun of both 'Chad' and cultural appropriation.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:20 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]


if you're a POC soaking in the USian culture of nearly-exclusive white stories, be they male or female, I bet you could pretty accurately create a story where the protagonist is white

Oh boy, could I. This has been rolling around in my brain since I read it. I can trace Chab Harper Gruene's alabaster eyelids with my mind-heart even though I've never met him. Going to have to think on that one for a while, because the thought occurs to me that someone who's a few generations into the US might write what are very white feeling stories just because they've assimilated a bit.

It struck me how gentle Carlos Greaves is towards white culture with his mirroring Cummins' flawed book with his satire. Going from the reviews, something closer to the obliviousness of Cummins might use the opioid crisis. Stereotyping white addicts in suburban houses, portraying white doctors as malevolent drug pushers. Stuff like that. Shit, I could claim my own white background (1/4 conquistador or some shit) and say that while I don't feel like I can represent the voice of the Anglo-American opioid addict, I keep coming back to Chab and his hazel eyes, head hung in hands in some musty bedroom on his (stolen) ancestral pastureland.

But even then... even then is that here in the US there is so much other white-centric media that it wouldn't matter. A drop in the bucket. Cummins on the other hand has got big money and a potential movie in a narrow field where others have written better and got lesser traction. The barbed wire flower arrangements and nails at a dinner full of white people. Insulting and grotesque. I won't say anything if she wants to work out her Puerto Rican identity in private, but damn.
posted by Mister Cheese at 5:03 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]


Mister Cheese: " I keep coming back to Chab and his hazel eyes,"

Don't forget the wonder-bread-like skin, cheeks the color of uncooked cauliflower, legs the hue of peeled garlic.
posted by signal at 5:51 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]




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