Who can forget Johnny Cash’s world-weary ode to poor name choices by parents? I remember singing it to a former colleague who hailed from Bulgaria. She listened politely and then asked, “But where is the melody?” In a similar way, Stacey Roberts’ memoir is a discordant collection of memories that are recounted in disorder but both Mr Cash and Mr Roberts bring things together in a kind of joyful cacophony. I read this over a weekend, giggling away on my friend’s sofa. It really reminded me of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, another memoir concerning the horror of childhood and adolescence.
Stacey Roberts was born ‘a preemie’ which may or may not have have something to do with his mother’s cigarette habit although she flatly denied it. She named him after what she thought the nurse at the hospital might have been called. Younger brother to Layne The Favourite and generally far too similar to his father (“that son of a b****”), being lumbered with a girl’s name on top of everything seemed like a step too far. In the grand tradition of comedians everywhere, Roberts has spun what sounds like a truly horrifying childhood into utter hilarity. Arsenic poisoning has never prompted so many laughs.
It was interesting reading this after completing a course on fictional minds, which explores amongst other things how we an have physical responses to reading material. I cringed for a large proportion of Trailer Trash with a Girl’s Name, and then also laughed out loud for the rest. His mother’s cooking, his elder brother’s ghastliness, general poverty, all of these come under fire and although Roberts may not be breaking new ground, he is a confident narrator recounting his stories with ease and with razor-sharp delivery. The extended sequence in which his mother obstinately gives herself arsenic poisoning rather than admit fault was very well paced, although my personal favourite was when the old lady and the police officer began having an argument and Stacey was called upon to translate … based solely on the insults that he had learnt. As the officer remarks, “Some life, kid”.
This was one of the most flat-out hilarious books that I have read in a long time. I am doubtful that every event happened in the way that Roberts would have us believe but still, it has always been my thought that the best way to heal from something is to laugh at it. I think that between the two, I prefer Let’s Pretend This Never Happened because I think it had more of a unified thesis by its conclusion but all the same, this was a wonderful memoir of a childhood spent on the road, growing up on the wild side.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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Published by Sons of Joy on February 28th 2014
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