Dumpin' on Dumplin'
"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." ~ Flannery O'Connor
Enter Dumplin', the #1 New York Times Bestseller by Julie Murphy.
I wanted to love this book. Oh how I wanted to love this book. I happened to see the Netflix version of the story and loved the movie so much I made my kids watch it. They loved it too, although their eyes didn't leak nearly as much as mine did. I quickly ordered the book. Two days of tortured anticipation followed as I waited for the book to arrive.
The movie was a beautiful story of self-discovery. I loved how influential Aunt Lucy was simply by being herself and allowing others to do the same. I loved the ending of the movie. I loved how many characters saw past fat and other superficial attributes. I loved the tone of the movie, especially all the funny one-liners.
The book was nothing like the movie. This is one of those rare occasions when it can be said that the movie was better than the book. Much better. As I read, I kept praising Netflix for taking an incomplete, foul mouthed story and developing the characters to make an inspirational movie.
Let's start with the language. I have a high tolerance for swearing, having been raised on a steady diet of such words. I get that teenagers use profanity in an effort to appear more mature. I get it. I'm not trying to inflict my morals on anyone. However, I'm unimpressed by reading pages that are peppered with language only included for shock value. When an author starts recreating common profane phrases, you know they have run out of things to say. One line I still can't find a purpose for is, "Oh, sweet (illegitimate child) (stop)." What? This is what Willowdean said when she put on a tight cap under her Dolly Parton wig. Authors, sometimes it's okay for your characters to just say what's going on. You don't always have to have them show the story though their bizarre cussing.
I read the F-word more than I read the word Dumplin', the nickname Willowdean hated so much. That was one of the many underdeveloped elements of this story. It was written almost in passing that Willowdean hated the nickname that made her think of dough balls. She never really explained her feelings to her mother in the book. I guess that's why the pageant mirror was labeled Dumplin'. This scene may have been the fifth time the word appeared in the book. While the F word showed up several times every couple of pages. Like magic, Ellen covers the word Dumplin' and says her movie line of, "It's just a word. But if it hurts you, it hurts me."
Ellen was a whole other magical part of the written story. Magical in the sense that the author's motives for her never seemed to match her actions. Willowdean spends most of the book trying to convince the reader that she loves Ellen. They are best friends. She can't believe they are fighting and no longer talking. Ellen is so loyal. Why? Because they have been friends for years and used to spend the night at each other's houses? Because all I saw out of Ellen was a brat. She was mean and mean spirited. Yet Willowdean couldn't stop lauding her praises. Out of nowhere they decide to be friends again near the end of the book. It was so illogical.
Netflix did a much better job with Ellen. With all the characters really. In the movie Ellen did stand up for Willowdean. Which made it easier to believe her when she said that she never thought of Will as fat. And fighting makes as much sense as rejecting someone for something they can't change. Those lines were not in the book. Because there would be nowhere to put them. Ellen let her new friends dog on Willowdean and then had the audacity to tell Willowdean she was too sensitive! Um … not a loyal friend. And the loyal speech was better in the movie. It was shorter in the book and Ellen wasn't even in the room to hear it. That's why I thought it was a little magical that Ellen and Willowdean suddenly decided to be friends again. The speech was a turning point in the movie and a non-event in the book.
Aunt Lucy read as a total loser too. Willowdean may be a confused 16 year old, but can we read better memories of the people she thinks are such positive role models? Her memories showed either nothing, or that people were not that inspirational. But as a narrator, she is insisting these people are the bees knees. Oh by the way, Aunt Lucy's bee pin was mentioned once in the book. In passing. I only bring it up because I don't see why it's a decorative part of the title when it clearly had no bearing on the story.
Needless to say, this book infuriated me. The characters were underdeveloped and illogical. The story seemed to splinter off in different directions without much resolution. There were so many times I could hear my Creative Writing teacher in my head saying, "There is a purpose to everything in a book. The author never puts anything in that doesn't somehow further the story or make a point." The author and editor of Dumplin' received no such memo. Save yourself the 371 pages and just watch the movie.