I didn't intend to read An Unreasonable Woman a second time; in six months. But that's what's happening. I picked it up three nights ago to skim and refresh my memory to write a review. The mistake may have been starting on the first page although wherever I open this book I'm drawn in. I'm a third of the way into it now and there's no question I'll read it again to the end.
The first time I already knew how it ended. A high school educated, third generation shrimper, mother of five, Diane Wilson, takes on a multi-billion dollar chemical company polluting the environment of her home town, Seadrift, Texas. She has one friend on her side, Donna Sue, and get this - she wins. But all the way through the book it's impossible she could have an impact. That she could make a difference. I've read the book. I don't know how she did it.
If the book were only about environmental justice I wouldn't be reading it a second time. But Diane Wilson has one of the most original honest voices on the page I've come across. Her voice isn't schooled, you don't learn writing like this, it was born with her. There's no other explanation.
On the opening page she describes a man's face as, quiet as an onion peel. Later four white boots on the desk are likened to, snow geese in a rice field. And a few pages after that she writes, Like most conversations around a fish house, ours started nowhere and meandered like a lost, starving cat.
Diane's writing is like her activism, it moves forward quietly, steadily, without pretension or ego. The woman never has a plan. She sits quiet, listens. And then does what needs to be done from the inside out. She makes progress against insurmountable odds.
Several times while reading this book I wanted to give up. Not give up on reading the book, I never wanted to put the book down; but give up caring about anything. Caring seemed too lonely, too hard. One day, after reading for an hour, I walked home from the bus, up the stairs into bed, and fully dressed got under the covers. I felt like I'd been living in a cave and stepped outside to the glare of the sun. And it burned my vision. I don't know how Diane Wilson kept on at times but I'm glad she did.
Weeks later I saw Diane speak. She was exactly how I'd pictured her: dusty cowboy boots, a cup of coffee in her hands.
After her talk, the full house of which held their breath, shouted out, stood up, let tears fall; I knelt to the level of the table Diane sat at and asked a question. I don't remember her answer, but she looked me in the eye when she spoke, and calm as the descriptions in her book I knew she told me the truth. That she was incapable of anything else.
And I remember how desperately I didn't want that to be the case, that I wanted her to be an unbelieveable loon. Because living with the truth and politics of deadly pollution is harder than living with its lies, which Ms. Wilson so straight forwardly reveals.
As Molly Ivins said on the cover of the book, "A stunning achievement."
Rated: 18 out of 5 stars.
Recommended for every woman who knows she can make a difference, the women who aren't sure and all of us who live in the pollution of the every day silence of acquiescence.