When it comes to the contents of Good King & Bad Kings, I didn’t have much prior knowledge as to what I was getting into. Even as a person who’s read quite a varied amount of literature, I’ve never actually read that many books where disability has been a major focus. From the kinds I’ve read, I consider them to be light in nature compared to the contents of Nussbaum’s novel though, far from it in actuality. Good Kings & Bad Kings is a far more realistic approach to disability, and pulls no punches in letting you know what you’re getting into.
Nussbaum manages to craft a so far realistic portrayal of the modern world, and tackles disability in a way that slowly begins to unravel a darker portrait of the character’s situations. There’s a pretty varied cast of characters, all with differing challenges, whether it be mentally, physically, or both. They’re not exactly defined by it either, something that not only happens in different forms of media, but something that we as a society seem to generalize as well. Each character has a distinct personality that makes them stand out, which is quite good given the book’s extensive cast of characters; and it’s not just that either, all the characters are where they are for different reasons, and although we don’t know every detail given how early we are into the novel, the way characters act and are treated not only make them distinct as said earlier, but gives us details that allow these characters to feel human.
For example, the character of Yessenia is the first character we’re introduced to. From her point of view, she tells us that she is physically challenged, however, Yessenia flips expectations on the head through her abrasive personality. While I wouldn’t consider her to be a morally bad character, it’s clear that she considers herself to be quite independent. Because her aunt was a large figure in her life, she’d gain much influence from her, especially when it came to standing her own ground, which in turn resulted in her being sent to the ILLC to begin with. The characters themselves may experience disability, but there’s more to them being where they currently are then simply their own ailments; and in turn, that rawness is what makes these characters so captivating this early on. It’s clear that we’ll learn more about them as the events move forward, but establishing these people as their own is key in any story, and is especially good given the subject matter being discussed. The characters aren’t portrayed to be perfect either, having noticeable flaws as I discussed earlier with Yessenia’s introduction. It could be argued that making these characters flawed could digress this sort of representation, but that’s far from the case here. If anything, having characters of certain archetypes constantly portrayed in a set way only limits the means of how diverse representation itself can be, and here, Nussbaum takes these niche ideas and drives forward with them, not only giving the reader something refreshing, but as someone who has mental disabilities themselves, it’s nice seeing something so raw in it’s message that’s willing to take these steps without trying to pander to the kind of disabled stories that we’re normally so used to seeing.
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