The book starts with some major gut/heart wrenching. I mean, Alice Walker reaches into your chest and rips out these organs, Indiana Jones And That Scary As Shit Temple Guy style. It's an epistolary novel, with the first several letters written by Celie, who begins by talking about how her father first raped her at 14 and how she had two children by him. He then gives her away to a neighbor as a wife. Mister --- is equally brutal, beating her and treating her like a slave while openly pining for his mistress, Shug Avery.
AND THEN Shug Avery shows up and BOTH Celie and Mister ---- are like damn, gimme some of that. And it's understandable coming from Celie because no men have ever treated her like a human being. Celie's voice is earnest and intelligent and strong and stoic. I got about halfway through the book and became super-invested in Celie's relationship with Shug, and in Sofia, Celie's daughter-in-law who literally fights back when her husband tries to beat her. These characters GET IN YOUR HEAD.
And then (not as exciting as the previous AND THEN, and also, SPOILERS HERE) Celie finds letters from her sister that Mister --- has been hiding from her. Now the reader spends about 30 pages not with the characters you've come to care about, but with another cast of characters you were introduced to 100 pages earlier and have sort of assumed are dead. Nettie's letters all start with a prefix from Celie that reads "and here's what the next one says" and so on, until you're up to speed with THOSE characters. It's a bit jarring, and it seems like Walker could've found a different structural technique that didn't require abandoning the first set of characters for the second.
At about the same point, the book becomes less about Celie and more about Alice Walker's religious philosophy- which, hey, that's cool. I'm fine with a book with a Message. But she uses The Thing I Hate Most In Books- using dialogue and/or speeches to delineate a point-by-point explanation of the author's worldview. It wasn't ok when Ayn Rand did it, and it's not ok when you do it, Alice, even if it did win you a Pulitzer. It's LAZY. It basically goes like this:
Celie: God has abandoned us.
Shug: No, you just don't understand God.
Celie: Exsqueeze me?
Shug: NO PROBLEM! Let me (a thinly disguised Alice) explain what God actually is and how one should actually interact with him/her, and all about his/her nature and life, the universe and everything.
Celie: Is it 42?
Shug: No way! That would make this last section of the book much shorter! Instead, let's talk about it for many, many pages. Meaning I'm going to talk about it. And you are going to be a character-vessel for my philosophical ramblings. K? K.
I cannot. I just. I cannot tell you how much this irritates me. It's the literal opposite of show, don't tell. WRITING RULE ONE, PEOPLE.
I know a lot of people love this book and I loved the first half of it, and I loved everything that wasn't a structural problem and a lazy dialogue-philosophy-religious essay ( FOR SERIOUS JUST WRITE AN ESSAY ok I'll stop). I loved Celie and I loved Sofia and I loved how unflinching Walker is in showing that yes, being black and poor and a woman immediately post-slavery was possibly the worst version of person to be because no one not no one treated you with kindness. It's a difficult novel in that way- there's injustice after injustice and you will probably cry. But it's not a stylistically perfect book and that can be a little distracting. But! Worth the read, I think.
Three stars out of your mom. Stupid preachy dialogue.