Synopsis Snippet: Jailed at age sixteen for armed robbery, Nathan Henry was the kind of teenager most parents and teachers have nightmares about. His crime was the culmination of a life lived on the edge: guns and drugs, sex and violence, all set against the ordinary backdrop of a one-stop light town in rural Illinois.
The Cast: This is about the white boy grown man Nathan “Nate” Henry and his rough family. Hetro is the norm, anything else is pushed aside as deviant or not worth knowing. A few non-white side-characters. This is mostly about a boy growing into a young man in a world of male-centricity. Women are not main characters of note.
Romance Aspects: Despite Nate’s somewhat more forward thinking view of women compared to his father, women are still pretty much Objects of Attention, conquests to obtain or idols of Everything Wrong in the World in need of a Lesson. This isn’t a fluffy romance, it is gritty and dark and only barely ends with a “boy meets girl to love” tidbit.
Language: The writing was a bit vulgar but straight-forward in its alternating description of Nate’s year in lock-up and his youth in getting to that point.
Fat treatment: Nothing good but nothing disturbingly bad comes to mind specifically related to fat characters (oh wait, there are none). Women are objects of lust and self-satisfaction for most of the memoir and this is (sadly) an improvement over Nate’s father’s views.
Review: Nathan grows up in Indiana where he likes playing with guns and killing animals. His rebellions against authority are just a big game to him until he finally gets caught. While in jail he discovers there is more to the world by reading books and speaking with various guards and co-prisoners.
Nate’s personal history is both disturbing and fascinating. A rough childhood becomes an adolescence full of half-realized violent fantasies that slowly build to the breaking point. But these scenes alternate with chapters about Nate’s time in jail, where through reading and reflection he comes to see that his life can be different from all he’s known up to this point.
This is a story of how a dark childhood can take a path into a deeply disturbing youth and the choices that led to Nathan’s incarceration. His chapters on the time spent in jail offer an interesting view of his mild growth and changes as he awaits the verdict for his crimes.
It wasn’t a book I’d read again but was certainly a fascinating glimpse into a life I’ve never considered. Some of Nathan’s insights are profound, others leave me despairing for the youth of the world and others give me some small modicum of hope. It was a mixed bag and worth the read but, again, rather dark and mostly despairing.
Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.
“I realized that authority was an illusion that required participation from both parties. If one party (the controlled) refused to play along, the other party (the controller) would lose their balance, drop the ball, get confused. In that window before they figured out how to regain their power, you were absolutely free.”
“I wondered how one ever knows what one wants, or what one SHOULD be. I wondered if there was a difference between naturally becoming something and WANTING to become something.”
“There were no ghosts in this world. There was no magic. There was life, and the Earth, and the Universe.”
“After this I began to call civilization – everything about it, all its ideas, all its constructions, clothes, houses, morals, bibles, literature, poetry, jails – the Grand Human Invention.”
“I’m really afraid of myself. I don’t know who the fuck I am half the time. I mean, I don’t know why I’ve done the things I’ve done. I don’t feel like I can just, you know, DETERMINE to save myself from destruction. I feel like it’s already arranged that I’m going to blow everything up.”
Final Verdict: There are parts that will stay with me forever in my darkest moments as reminders that there really are some truly screwed up things people can do to each other and themselves in this world. Sometimes it is good to read about a life that could not possibly be further from your own reality. This was one such read (for me) and it was intense.
So, have you read this yet? Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else?