By Zilla Babbitt
How Much You Love Us is another example of how Babbitt cranks out story after story of quality penmanship and poise. The setting of this story is a little everywhere, starting in Berlin, then to Tokyo, and ending in Cairo. This is a story of genuine friendship and love, and you can’t help but fall in love with the main character, Marta. Babbitt takes us on a journey through a stuttering, stammering, loving tale of mental health, sincerity, loneliness, and thoughtfulness.
The best thing Babbitt does in this story is capture Marta’s stuttering speech without overloading the reader with it. There is a lot of dialogue in this story, so it would be easy for novice writers to overload the page with st-st-stutters. But Babbitt knocks this theme out of the park. Babbitt makes it clear in the first line of Marta’s dialogue that stuttering is going to be the way we as readers connect with Marta, because we all have our flaws; Marta’s is just a little more forthcoming than ours. You can’t help but love Marta from the very first line. She carries pieces of paper in her pockets to write down somebody’s name every time she thinks of them and calls to tell them she was thinking of them! -I’m not crying, you’re crying!- Babbitt touches on this concept throughout the story just enough that it’s believable. Marta’s always pulling out pieces of paper and writing down the names of people she loves. Can we all just be Marta’s friend already?
Along her travels around the world, Marta meets Nico and Julie, which are interesting side characters. Eventually we learn that Nico walks with a limp, though Babbitt doesn’t go into Nico’s physical impediment more than that. Which I think is good. While the story acknowledges these physical problems, I like how they aren’t the main focus of the story, only a small part of it. In doing this, it really keeps the theme and narrative focused on what’s really important: love and friendship. Julie seems to be able-bodied with no physical problems, which leads me to being very curious as to what Babbitt has left out about Julie! Marta stutters, Nico has a limp, the owner of the cookie contest is a fat lady with a scar on her lip, and the motel owner in Cairo has leathery skin and dead eyes. WHAT IS IT ABOUT JULIE?! It could be something with her teeth or her neck, as the only real description Babbitt gives us about Julie is, she wears big scarves and she smiles with her lips closed. In any case, Nico and Julie do everything they can to make Marta happy. They have this parental sense about them, like Marta is their daughter. And Marta even looks up to them like they’re her parents, and they are just this big, happy family!
But, the story does build a small amount of tension between Nico and Julie, which shows us a different side of the two with growing impatience when making the cookie. This quickly subsides though, but it’s a glimpse into conflict. Something else interesting happens along these lines though when Nico is terrified of Marta possibly losing the competition. He talks about the fits, inertia, and overdosing Marta does when she gets upset. This isn’t just because she gets upset, though; Marta has an underdeveloped brain. This is an entirely different side of mental health that Babbitt chooses to only briefly mention. This is just like how Babbitt only touches on the characters’ physical problems, they’re both only part of who they are. It keeps the theme’s focus forward without dismissing these negative concepts entirely. And I love the ending, the way Marta loses the competition but controls herself, to the surprise of Julie and Nico.
Possibly my favorite part about this story are the scenic elements. “The city lights blocked out the stars and the night, cloaked in chilly fluorescent light, grew darker.” This sets up that starless night sky so well and replaces the stars with streetlights. I just love this imagery! When they’re in the motel in Cairo, you really get this sense of a hot rainstorm the way Babbitt describes the oncoming rain as “thickening.” How Much You Love Us really puts us as readers into the story through this sense, which is what I really enjoy about storytelling.
So, where would I rate How Much You Love Us? The story was good, and the characters were relatable. Babbitt really does a good job penning the scene and artfully crafting a short story. I would rate How Much You Love Us a 4 out of 5 stars. Really the only drawback to this story is, the believability of this story. Babbitt never really elaborates on how Marta is able to travel between Berlin, Tokyo, Cairo, and who knows where else, and can find two people randomly to do it with her. This is the only part of the story that didn’t really capture me. Despite that flaw, this was a really enjoyable story to read, and I would encourage you all to read more of Babbitt’s work!
Thank you for reading! Have you read this story yet? What did you think of it? Join in on this discussion in the comments below!
Interested in reading this story? Or more of Babbitt’s work? Read it here.