Anything We Love Can Be Saved

Ellizabeth Judd reviews Alice Walker's book of essays "Anything We Love Can Be Saved".

Published April 8, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

"Anything We Love Can Be Saved" is the literary equivalent of a garage sale. Loosely held together by its subtitle, "A Writer's Activism," the subjects of Walker's essays, letters and speeches bear little in common except having briefly snagged the author's attention. Side by side stand highly personal mini-polemics on dreadlocks, Fidel Castro, the phrase "you guys," the use of pregnant mare urine in an estrogen-replacement drug, Salman Rushdie, African cinema and a blue bowl Walker's mother used. One would have to be an awfully loyal Alice Walker fan to be engaged by her rambling observations on whatever issue seems to fall in her path, especially since Walker hasn't strained herself searching for exciting new material. To the contrary, she liberally cites her own earlier writings, even quoting five pages of "The Color Purple" at a single stretch.

Amid the jumble are a handful of essays that do charm. My favorite is, surprisingly enough, an essay about Walker's longing for feline companionship. "Five years ago I decided I was ready to share my life with a cat. I had had cats before, but things had gone wrong," begins Walker. She then details her checkered past with two needy strays that cried ceaselessly while the writer meditated or worked. Despite her dismal track record (both cats were given the boot), Walker describes the hard-won peace she forges with the garrulous Frida in a nicely understated parable about accepting oneself and one's chosen companions, flaws and all.

Although Walker's tales of daily life can be amusing, some of her political speeches are sloppy. Off-the-cuff pronouncements are fine for the commencements or rallies where they were originally delivered, but they're tedious in print. Worse, when Walker rails against the West African practice of female genital mutilation, she squanders her opportunity to reach a broad audience by making her case far too subjectively, comparing the partial blinding she suffered in a childhood accident to the sexual "blinding" experienced by African women. Walker's wounded eye is such a weird and distracting metaphor for genital mutilation that it blinded me to her putative subject -- the widespread and sometimes fatal practice of female circumcision and infibulation.

As you read this collection, you can't help comparing Walker's work to that of another writer-activist -- Grace Paley. Paley's short stories and essays are so sturdily crafted that the social issues addressed become witty, alive and worth treasuring, while the pieces in "Anything We Love" often seem as worn and sad as castoffs that nobody's buying.

By Ellizabeth Judd

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