Author delays book after criticizing ableism
Earlier this month, during a weekend of terrible book news (which included the sale of yet another Nazi romance), came Cora Reilly’s third book blurb in the The sins of the fathers series, A touch of fate. In traditional publishing, an author cannot control book layouts. However, this particular novel is part of a series of self-published Mafia romance books, so there is no excuse for this or the author’s initial response.
TW: Ability Insults.
The presentation text reads as follows:
Since a car accident in her childhood, Emma Mancini has been tied to a wheelchair. In a society that values its women for their beauty, she is seen as damaged and unwanted. When one of Chicago Outfit’s most wanted bachelors agrees to marry her, she knows a deal between their families must be the reason. Her suspicions are confirmed when Samuel treats their bond as boring homework.
Samuel Mione is paralyzed by guilt and bitterness. As the future Underboss of the Chicago Outfit, he doesn’t have time to deal with anyone, let alone open up to them emotionally. For him, the bond with a woman like Emma means another unwanted obligation.
But Emma is not someone who resigns herself to her fate. She has overcome greater odds than a cold husband and is determined to show him that she is not the burden he fears.
While many of Reilly’s fans were quick to come to his defense and dismiss criticism as upset “snowflakes on Twitter and BookTok,” others pointed out how important that blurb and premise was. harmful.
Language and plot
Leaving aside the issues with the actual premise for a second, let’s address specific words and phrases in the blurb (and presumably in the novel). The story is about a woman in a wheelchair, but Reilly uses ableist language to describe the problems of the male protagonist. The use of “crippled” is already ableist, but veers into slur territory due to Rielly’s attempt to use it in a cheeky pun, which comes across as highly disrespectful and dehumanizing.
When discussing wheelchair use, individuals may prefer person-focused language rather than identity-focused language. (In this case, it would be “wheelchair person” as opposed to “wheelchair user”.) However, in no situation is it correct to say that someone is “bound” to a mobility device. For many people with physical disabilities, these devices serve as a method of independence and freedom, and to say “bound” implies the opposite.
The plot itself (in my opinion, but more importantly, by the voices of activists with disabilities) is inherently ableist. It’s clear in the last line and Emma’s motivation. The goal of the disabled character is to prove that he is not a burden for the non-disabled man. In Reilly’s story (based on her response to the criticism), she could subvert that, but I think you have to first understand and engage with the community she’s trying to represent (like sensitive readers), especially since Emma’s disability is central to the story.
Reilly responds to criticism
At least two different messages from the author seem to respond to the book’s review. In the first image on Instagram of Reilly addressing the controversy, Reilly basically notes that she did her best to show the social issues faced by people with disabilities, acknowledges that the novel would be best with a sensitive reader, and says the book is on break. (Although it’s possible I missed a previous answer as Reilly deletes posts on A touch of fate on his social media accounts.)
The apologies continue in the comments, but the comments are not visible at this time, for this post and the following ones. Reilly seems to think much of the criticism comes from the ableist language of the book and says she needs to show the horrors realistically so as not to “sugar coat” them. Although I’m just one person and not in his DMs, I haven’t seen this complaint anywhere. In everything I’ve seen of those challenging Reilly’s book, the problem lies in the ableist language in the novel’s blurb and premise.
Yes Screenshot by @BornInOutfitPic on Twitter contains the bits in the comments, so those excuses go from sour to toxic very quickly. There, people point out how she focuses on the backlash by mentioning (arming) her tears and her desire to represent the disability community despite her claim that “diverse writing always means huge FINANCIAL risk”. Are people with disabilities supposed to thank her here? This statement is completely unnecessary. She acts as if her “risk” of inclusion is more of a risk than people with disabilities who choose to write people like them.
Clarification and update of the book
In a follow-up post, Reilly expressed her gratitude to her readers, begged that they don’t start a “witch hunt” and clarified that she would move forward with the book in the future with the help of sensitive readers. .
Although she ends by saying, “Let’s try to make the world of books a safe place again”, the world of books as a whole remains an unattractive space for marginalized communities, unless they have the time , funds and community support to carve out a niche. The existence of other books and stories like this, to the point that it’s quite a trope, shows that even for those most affected by this controversy, books have never been a completely safe place.
If a able-bodied writer wants to include a disability to diversify their mafia fiction and address issues of ableism, that’s one thing. However, if Reilly intends to do better, she really needs to listen. Maybe I’m naive because I’m not part of this group (and see myself in her struggles to fight ableism), but reading Reilly’s second answer, she seems to understand that it’s the good thing to do but is struggling to recover on her own. I fail to understand that last bit, especially when I see these same issues in discussions of racism, transphobia, etc.
Writing about marginalized experience in a way that promotes understanding and doesn’t actively harm people is a difficult task. It’s even harder when you’re not in that group. This task will be difficult as a writer because she already has a ride-or-die fanbase (see GoodReads) that just wants another book.
Not everyone is going to want to hold their hand gently and tell them why something is problematic because, realistically, it’s emotional labor for free. (In addition to dealing with the real life or death consequences of ableism in their daily lives.) Instead, Reilly must take the time to learn by reading about disability from community members and contracting sensitive readers.
(via Twitter, photo: Marc Aurelius from Pexels)
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