Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenriech. (2001)

Nickel & Dimed, a book on not getting by in America.
All it took was Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine and Barbara was off. Firstly in Florida, then Maine, then Minnesota. This week, I read a review on the website of Brother's Judd.

I didn't realise, but apparently the experience should have initially been articles. It was only then, Barbara decided to turn it into a book. "Her essays in the experience first only appeared in Harper's but are here expanded, barely, to a book length account in which we find out much about Barbara Ehrenreich, fairly little about the difficult lives of people she worked with,
and nearly nothing about what she would suggest we do to make their lives
easier." But even though we find out an exceptional amount about Ehrenriech, apparently it's not the real Barbara, goes on to tell us that the woman we get to know in the book is a far more embellished, fictional version of the real woman. However, this was agreeably for a valid reason. "You see, one of the most distinctive things about the book is that Ehrenreich creates a fictional version of herself. She has to minimize her experience when she goes for interviews, has to disguise her true mission from co-workers and supervisors, has to (mostly) reign in her radical political views, etc... This both makes her character in the book completely unrealistic and
leaves her to spend all her time fixating on herself."
It comes across that believe that the work of Nickel and Dimed itself is coming across as far more autobiographical than intended. What was expected when this book was picked up, was more information and observation on the social, politcal and environmental situations Ehrenrich subjected herself to as opposed to reading what felt like a novel with a heavily fictionalised version of Barbara.
I agree, however, I imagine it must have taken alot of time and effort to keep her story straight when lying to her coworkers about her disguised past and present.

On top of her self-embellishment, BJudd also critisizes her knack for complaining; "In fact, this is so obvious that her endless complaining abut her rent loses its effectiveness because we realize how easy a problem this would be to alleviate." - Is this B.E's way of trying to make a point? Is this B.E simply complaining? Or, is she trying to create the gap inbetween the life she was living as a reporter for Harper's magazine, in contrast to the life she is pretending to live now as a waitress, floor scrubber and walmart sales person?
The key is, she can quit. She can go home with her tail between her legs, but no. She'd rather spend most of the book telling us how horrible everything is. But, on the other hand, who are we to diminish the work of an author who has done something I can say I would never want to do?

The section of this review that says "Equally maddening is her refusal to take advantage of the easiest opportunity that exits to find friendship and social assistance : church. At one point she
actually goes to a revival meeting, but it turns out she's only there to make fun of the service." Reveals that not only is B.E a self imposed loner, she is also flirting dangerously with the idea of walking over a highly acclaimed religion.

In conclusion, it doesn't matter. None of it, nothing Ehrenreich does, matters. Because after all... "She has a real life she could fall back on if things went badly" unlike everyone she meets along the way.

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