The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

 

Confession first:

Before reading this book, I had only listened to three or four Gucci Mane songs… maybe.

I am a child of the seventies and eighties, a New Yorker, jazz head, bibliophile, art-nerd, musician, whose taste in Rap is more “puritanical” than what began to emerge from the genre in the mid-nineties and the new millennium. The repetitive bass line, synthetic-hypnotic rhythm, and heavily slang-filled accented lyrics kind of lost me, but that is not to say that I was not open to rappers from the south. Actually, I was digging them. Their raps covered life as they knew it and educated those of us who didn’t understand. Through them, we grew eager to see the alien contours and crevices of the planet they occupied, and rushed in droves to Atlanta, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Memphis, and New Orleans to be enveloped by their often harsh-told realities and to tread upon their planet.

I first learned of Gucci Mane while a Dean in a Memphis performing arts high school. From the middle of a relatively quiet room came a screeching howl, “GUCCI!” and the room exploded in laughter and echoes of “GUCCI” raced across the room for what seemed like an hour, quieting only when it lost its comedic appeal. Still I hadn’t heard anything by this Gucci dude until a student pulled a CD from his backpack and put it into a player behind the classrooms. The CD was “Murder was the Case,” and it was both familiar and extraordinarily foreign. It was the sound of the south, the story of forbidden zones and hidden realities, of ‘life in the game.’ It was raw and vivid, sad, tragic and poetically profound. It was catchy and definitely not my jam, but I could see why it was theirs.

Then I heard about the book.

I feverishly read “The Autobiography of Gucci Mane,” because of Morgan Jerkins. She interviewed him for Vulture magazine in 2017, and from that interview penned an article entitled ‘Gucci Mane Got Out of Prison and Wrote a Book. Here’s How It All Happened.’ I figured that if Morgan Jerkins found him worthy of writing about, and millions of people love him and his music then I had spent an unrecoverable decade missing out. By the time I finished reading his autobiography, I realized that indeed I had.

Gucci Mane’s story is the story of America. Not the pigeon-holed, stereotypical images perpetuated throughout the media, but the real day-to-day. It is an uplifting tale of rags to riches and dirt paths to gold paved streets. This autobiography was a graphic music video based on its own sound-track. And it brought to the forefront that, tattoos, accents, drugs and all, Gucci is a bad MANE!

At the opening of his story he writes about his ability to read earlier than his peers, thanks to his school teacher mother and his inexplicable interest in the written word. It was the word, ultimately, that would save his life a dozen times, and would equally make his world an orb of fire. Words produced poetry, poetry produced rap, and rap, at least for Gucci, produced money, power and chaos. But the other part of his DNA was provided by a father who knew the importance of hustle and respect, and Gucci, whose real name is Radric Davis, followed that often sordid path. He was thought to have a speech impediment (at age nine Gucci and his mother moved to Atlanta where verbal inflections may be different from its neighboring states) but it seems that his Alabama accent was so thick his words didn’t sound quite right. As the years progressed, Atlanta introduce and influenced young Gucci, exposing him, almost illuminating him, to a life of trapping, profiling, and grandiosity; certainly not a life he would have found in Alabama. He became disenchanted with formal education and, after high school, never fulfilled any academic commitments, dropping out of college and trade schools. But words remained his strength.

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane rockets through Gucci’s existential life so quickly the reader feels as if something was missed. This sonic movement from period to period is, perhaps, the principal misfortune. Admittedly, I may have missed some of the fillers or statements that closed those holes, but I doubt it. From the point when he becomes a drug dealer to when the heavens opened and he begins to realize his talent as a rap artist, it seemed to be a blur, particularly the bump from buying beats to bagging gigs. Suddenly his music takes off, soaring well beyond the skills of his peers and he is crowned and quickly revered.  But, in all fairness, it is obvious that Gucci was a pursuer of his personal passions and thrusts himself into the spoils of those passions. He followed the credo of the very successful: Never Apologize — and throughout the narrative abides by that credo. Regardless of the outcome, he never made excuses and he never apologized. Then another phase emerged: Prison.

Being imprisoned for possession of firearms in 2013 (this was not this first rodeo and it wouldn’t be his last) was his metamorphosis and, in many ways, the beginning of his rebirth. When admitted, his body was wrecked from an addiction to a codeine laced cough syrup concoction that affected him so profoundly he gained a mass of weight and suffered chaotic side-effects. Eventually a doctor urged him to discontinue its use, but that was not a part of his immediate plan and he continue to sip syrup until his environment prohibited access. Prison, as implied by the book, detoxed him. He was gradually getting clean of the damaging poisons and in doing so, clearing his head. The decision to engage in a self-developed exercise program (if you want to call it that) led to an eighty pound weight loss by the time of his release. When his term ended (of course there are stories about his time behind bars) the beats of his life and the rumble of the streets welcomed him back.

Ultimately, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane was surprisingly well developed and absent of chapters of indecipherable rhetoric often common in autobiographies about musicians, especially rappers. I was shocked by his candor and his willingness to speak about a multitude of [personal] issues that other artists would avoid intensely. His transparency in this book was golden and elevated him, I believe, to a status that he would not have gained through music alone. Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not because it speaks to the life and success (or failure) of a known personality, but because it was everything one would never expect a book about a known personality to be. It seems that Morgan Jerkins also found this to be true. So, now, after a decade free of “trap” music I am trapped, bumping several Gucci Mane tracks locked securely in my musical repertoire. The magic is that these tracks clarify many parts of the book I only subtly understood and left me, randomly, if not hypnotically, yelling… “GUCCI!”

 

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian

w kamau bell 2

I am a fan of W. Kamau Bell. The sort of fan who would watch or listen to him if the media he was on was available or I happened upon them while channel surfing. How could I not be a fan? He represents a part of all people. That part that is, more often than not, afraid to face the discomforts of race, sex, politics, religion, friendships, tolerance (thank you 45) and acceptance.

I heard of Bell several years ago, but only in passing. He was described as the really tall Black guy with the equally impressive “free-style” Afro. That description did very little to pique my interest. I wanted to know what he was thinking, not what his physical characteristics were, but when I was told that he was ‘on point’ and spoke in an uncommon manner about common (if controversial) matters I sought him out.

Bell is principally a West Coast comic who was primarily doing a west coast circuit, or so it seemed. I remember seeing him for the first time on some forgotten television program (maybe Totally Biased). I was laughing aloud at his routine, Googling his name, and trying to understand exactly where he came from. Then, oddly, I lost track of him. But he left an impression, and I waited for the next time he would emerge with his commentary on social issues. A couple years later Bell reemerged as the host of the CNN’s REAL reality/ docu-like show, United Shades of America, and I, as if his apparition publicist, tooted the title from the bell tower (no pun intended) to all who’d listen. His work was genius, in a dry, academic, conscientious sort of way. The odd, edgy, thought-provoking show was at times unnerving (see the KKK episode and look at Bell’s nervous expression) and at other times addictive and hopeful.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, confirmed my appreciation for Bell as an Everyman. The book exposes Bell true character beyond the television personality, and perhaps, the on-stage comic. The reader is taken on a fantastic journey through his life. He writes about his never married parents (there are no stereotypes here, his parents were both professional people), the woes of childhood, his attraction to all things nerdy, his initial awareness of being “different” (must read the ‘no kiss for you’ part) and the importance of remaining steadfast even when against all odds. The book exposed him as the skater guy who couldn’t skate but cheered for his skate-able comrades because that’s what friends do. If Bell had never mentioned where he planted his roots, it would still have been obvious that he has a California heart.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, is part biography, part history lesson. Bell gives real thought throughout the pages of The Awkward Thoughts. His position and thoughts on racism, although he is in an interracial marriage, are both profound and powerful. His straight line position is that racism is an indicator of something other than the color of one’s skin. He projects that the racist is as he is because he feels that something of personal value (opportunity, usually) has been taken. But, Bell surmises, that is not the crux of the problem. The issue, on a deep dive, is not color but promises not kept and one’s inability to venture beyond their disparaging place for better opportunity. This trap keeps families frustrated, downtrodden and angry. Someone has to be blamed. And the flame of their despair is being fed by the ignorant rhetoric of the man behind the white curtain, further searing their souls with speak of immigrants (illegal) and others stealing their hope. Even a first-week psychology student knows that seething words of the blame on depressed ears feasters unreasonable thought.

Bell urges people to read. To venture beyond the rhetoric and develop one’s own opinion. He sites Ta’Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander as must-read authors. He speaks of his ‘not such a good student’ high school days, but how he was accepted into Penn State (although it was very short-lived). He shows that even the wayward can and often will eventually find their way, if only they listen to their inner voice, and venture along those paths that others may fear to tread. This, Bell states, is the story he’d tell his daughters, who seemingly settled him, but keep him hungry for the next level.

The book concludes with Bell writing about an incident that occurred during his birthday. He and his wife sat (outdoor seating) in a favorite brunch cafe in Cali. When the meal was over he left, temporarily, but his wife remained, engaged in conversation with friends. When Bell, all 6’4″, Black, and militantly coiffed, returned to the cafe, he stood over the table where his wife and others sat. Then, he writes, an overzealous waitress knocked on the window from within the cafe to get his attention. Not knowing who he was or why he was there, the waitress tried to ‘shoo’ him away, assuming that he was harassing the white women. Rightfully, Bell and his wife were infuriated. Shortly after verbalizing his embarrassment and humiliation he organized a meeting based on racial tolerance in the gym of a local middle school. The owner of the cafe attended and tried, passionately, to sympathize his way out of the issue, acknowledging the depth and seriousness of the misunderstanding, stating that the essence of the cafe was and always will be tolerance, but the more he spoke the more Bell and others realized that he didn’t understand. If tolerance was true, and not just a statement of liberal comfort, the waitress would not have approached or mistaken him [Bell] as a street person. After all, Bell writes — building upon the insult– she did not approach the white man with matted hair panhandling outside the door of the cafe for well over an hour, at all.

Indeed Bell has experienced these situations, directly and subtly for a majority of his life. Indeed, and sadly, all Black people have, whether they see it directly or choose to ignore it. In The Awkward Thoughts… Bell not only found and projected his comedic voice, his talent, his story, he, without trying, found and projected ours.

Dig If You Will: A Review

Dig if you will

Author: Ben Greenman

304 Pages

Books that are written about an icon harbors expectations that often exceed reality; infusing an image of a giant with the curiosity and mystery of their journey to stardom. Readers want to get the details that would otherwise remain unknown.  Several months ago I wrote a blog about one such icon, and upon completion, which is the case for many writers, I hated every word, punctuation, and idle attempt to be savvy and captivating. I didn’t further edit that blog, opting instead to let it stand as a reminder of where  I was, mentally, at that time. In the late 1970’s I was a supersized ( in today’s measurement of girth, that youthful me would be considered ‘average-athletic’)  version of most newly minted teenagers. We were a deeply impressionable bunch, wanting to emulate, even ape, our heroes, including, perhaps especially, those in music. So, after a long and sometimes painful journey through the catacombs of disco, elevator rock, and experimental fusion, an unknown enigma emerged and soared upon the airwaves and into our lives, nesting there, incomprehensible, for several decades. And it would be his precocious music that leveled rocky paths– uniting cultures– like disco. The world came to know him as one ironic and terrifically appropriate name: Prince.

Tiny, androgynous, mysterious, and enigmatic, Prince quickly elevated to superhero, and then suddenly he passed. His unexpected death led millions of people to the streets paying homage in song, dance, costumes, and chants. Purple covered the skies.  Dig If You Will the Picture, by Ben Greenman, a biography, of sorts, about Prince categorizes in a way that often feels sanitized, the work and life of the artist. It was evident that Greenman had not interviewed  Prince and more evident that through independently developed accounts and personal opinions this book was created.  It cannot be questions that Greenman is a gifted scribe with tremendous interest in pop culture and icons, but this could be problematic as the book became, in parts, too academic which, although informative, lulled along. Greenman’s comparison of Prince songs to other works, from the literary to the philosophical, shows that he is encyclopedic perhaps beyond necessity. If Dig If You Will the Picture was placed alongside the many books existing and forthcoming (Prince: A Private View; Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions:1983-1984; The Most Beautiful, and several others), it would glow and equally fall short based on its lack of personalization. There were no, or very few, points of passion, humanizing of Price as a person, or surreal effect on his fan base.

Fortunately, there is one thing the Greenman provided in the writing of this book. He allowed those who may not be familiar with Prince (imagine that) an opportunity to know the depth of his genius. His emphasis on Prince as an instrumentalist and determined lyricist, or Prince’s refusal to compromise his sound, look, or passion, illuminates the artist. Fans of Prince should definitely read Dig If You Will the Picture. Many will enjoy its details (I actually did) but expect the unexpected. I wasn’t wowed; I wasn’t disappointed, but I was not prepared for some of the content or the almost scrivener’s style.

Greenman had me reminiscing about nearly forgotten songs, flipping through old disks, and listening to unfamiliar Prince tunes. Pleasantly, I was transported back to Prince’s earlier works and developed a new appreciation for his newer music. I was a college student at the height of many of Prince’s greatest hits, sitting in a friend’s dorm room with a half dozen other guys sipping on the cheapest truth serum we could find and vigorously debating about the symbolic meanings of and hidden messages behind When Dove’s Cry,  I Would Die For You, or Darling Nikki, and the yet proven fact that his name, Prince Rogers Nelson, had 6 letters each (666). We’d watch his videos in silence, allowing the serum to work its magic and Prince to work wonders.  The book awakened that. In many ways, I am still in that dorm room saying with conviction, Dig If You Will….

 

The Man YOU Made–To Dad on His Birthday

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Dear Dad,

Happy birthday!

Man, when God made you, the mold was definitely broken. All I can say is that I am glad to know that I am a part of that mold. So, here’s the strange part,  despite the fact that I talk to you several times a day, every day, I hardly know where to begin without sounding commercial, forced or trite, so I will just start by saying, thank you.   I know you always tell me that I don’t have to give you thanks, but you do understand where I’m coming from and why I am coming from that direction. You know that through the years I have seen boys and men who have had no father to thank. So, I, Joey Bean-Head, with immeasurable appreciation, am thanking you.

I want to thank you for what some may see as common, expected, or the responsibility of a father. I don’t know what that means: common, expected, or the responsibility of a father.  You fulfilled our expectations and nothing about you is or has ever been common, but everything about you is father. In my eyes, for all of my life, you have been more: a superhero, a disciple, a Giant! from the expanse of your chest, your confident gait, or the unselfish giving of your heart. Oh Captain, my Captain! You are what no other man could ever be, and what many fathers never took time to become. I am working on becoming ….

You were young when I was born, barely out of childhood yourself, yet in the eyes of an infant, you were monumental. You gave me your name. I honor that and carry our name proudly. I remember how safe I felt, how I knew, regardless of what the world projected, that no harm would fall upon me, that no demon dared set foot or claw in our den. I hold memories of those days, memories that perhaps should have been forgotten by a child of three or four, but for reasons that I cannot explain, they remain, vividly. I remember growing with you, maturing as you further matured, in awed by your strength and your passion for the unseen, later evidenced by what you accomplished. You said it and it appeared. You promised it and it became.  I remember being taught how to cut grass (“follow the lines made by the wheel!”), prune trees, plant flowers, build fences (or try) and make BIG ASS fires in metal trash cans.

Through the years (I call them my war years) I grew more complex, feeling at one point that I didn’t even know myself. I wanted for nothing, yet here I was. I was sixteen, maybe seventeen, my heart betrayed me as my forever love said love wasn’t forever, at least not hers. I thought myself smart, talented, athletic, a trifecta that would be irresistible, but that wasn’t, at that time, supposed to be, at least not with her.

I came home from school that day, broken, after wandering through the streets enshrouded in an impenetrable fog. It was warm. The sun was bright. The scent of Jasmine perfumed the air. Birds sang so beautifully that the Angels hushed to listen. To the rest of the world, life was joyous, but for me, my universe was in shambles. I remember little about what happened when I got home. For reasons forever mysterious, I was drawn to the bathroom. When I entered I collapsed on the floor and trembled, curled in a fetal position, tears streaming down my face and neck, wails calling out to God. The door was closed but as I lay there, confessing that life was no longer worth living, contemplating how I’d end this excruciating pain, you entered, still dressed in your uniform. I don’t remember what you said, or if you said anything at all, but I do remember feeling your warmth, as you lowered yourself in a tiny clearing next to me on that floor of Tremble, and embraced me until the chill waned. I thought I heard you whisper:

Now if you feel that you can’t go on (can’t go on)
Because all of your hope is gone (all your hope is gone)
And your life is filled with much confusion (much confusion)
Until happiness is just an illusion (happiness is just an illusion)
And your world around is crumbling down, darlin’…

(Reach out) Reach out for me…

I’ll be there with a love that will shelter you
I’ll be there with a love that will see you through…

You gave me a part of your soul that day. No one was ever to know and we never spoke of it again and life went on. And I knew on that day I was given undeniable confirmation that you were more than just my dad.

There were many similar stories as the years progressed. You accepted my sensitivities, made me accept my failures, encouraged my passions, and fed me with the fuel of brilliance. You let me know that there will always be people who wouldn’t understand my drive, try to discourage my dreams, hope to break my spirit, and project their self-hatred in my direction. You spoke of naysayers spitting fire in your path, but how the water on your soles kept the fires extinguished. I, too, now have well-earned soles of water extinguishing their fires.

Dad, I, in this letter, am trying to recall everything that you provided to ensure that I would live a life of satisfaction. I am hoping to remember so I can share those memories in several hundred more pages, with my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and people who approach me with curiosity, but even that would prove insufficient.  A million words would only touch the surface of who you are and what you are. But I do see that look from my child; that same look that I used to give you when I was her age; the look of amazement and awe, love and assurance. I never thought I could walk in your footsteps, but I realized that you never wanted me to. You instead encouraged that I create my own, and when I ventured into a world I didn’t know, surrounded by people whose language I did not speak, I knew I was making you proud.

So, here I am, humming your favorite tune, looking in the mirror at a facsimile of your face, enamored by the thought that your DNA is in two generations and that each time I sign my name I also sign yours. Today I pay great tribute to you on the day you broke the mold. I will continue your journey because I know that next to your giant footsteps, perhaps a bit smaller, and not as sure, are mine.

Love you Dad! Happy Birthday.

HUNGER: A Review

 

Author: Roxane Gay

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Harper (June 13, 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0062362593

ISBN-13: 978-0062362599

Embarrassingly, it was a couple-three years ago when I first learned about Roxane Gay. My initial impression was, “I’d love to meet her. We’d definitely be friends!” I hadn’t read any of her work, but based on her pictures, the stoic presence, and eyes that looked as if they knew something I didn’t,  I was enamored by the thought of hour long debates over endless cups of strongly brewed coffee. Then, in a magazine I have since forgotten,  I read her thoughts and the world opened. She had written on subjects that made the main stream quiver: rape, weight, and feminism, politics, life, death, and love. I liked that. But I must admit, besides those few articles, a couple of short stories,  and a half dozen YouTube interviews, I had never read her books, even as Bad Feminist became the must read among friends and critics. It didn’t take long before I knew I was missing something magical. I started from the end to prepare my beginning. I started with Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I wasn’t ready!

Gay’s Hunger reads like a diary, journaling beyond the mechanical lyrics often found in innumerable memoirs which simply seek an audience or make a personal point to confess how deleterious one’s life had been. Yes, Hunger does this, too, but I was not absorbed into or by the sorrow, just the many paths along Gay’s trek. It exposes, a few pages within, the bottomless cavity of the heart and confessions of the soul. Gay lets the reader in; allows them to absorb the emotions (read “secrets”) that she had kept at bay for years. She forces her audience to rest the book on their lap, look at their reflection and say, “someone really understands.”

“Writing this book is a confession. These are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. This is my truth. This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided,” she writes.

She opens to the world her personal Pandora’s box, releasing the demons she had grappled with since she became the teenaged victim of a heinous and irreversible violation,  revealing that Hunger is a double entendre, revealing that the violation eventually becomes self-imposed. To find solace, security and, perhaps, meaning in that horrendous crimes perpetrated against her — she turned to food. This form of comfort or discomfort is real; a place where temporary pleasure eventually and inevitably becomes a far greater and more painful boulder lodged in one’s soul. The other thing Gay does is explain why– why food became her shield.  She states:

“Losing control of my body was a matter of accretion. I begin eating to change my body. I was willful in this. Some boys had destroyed me, and I barely survived it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure another such violation, and so I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away.” 

This reveals a sad reality enveloping and consuming Gay. To be dehumanized so deeply that she wanted to morph into something she felt would be viewed as vile and grotesque is the essence of that sad, honest reality. Gay has the reader realize how little society knows of (or willfully acknowledges) the tribulations and horrific endeavors that led (or lead) to people, deemed obese, feeling that hiding within themselves is their only form of solace;  how that thick unattractive ‘cover’ is the only sure answer. For years she wandered as if searching for something, falling into empty arms, ulterior motives, and unkept promises. She lost herself in southwest towns and a literal northern wilderness where she eventually (it is casually implied) finds her stronger self. I soon understood, that sympathetic thoughts or words, or the benefit of a brief but comforting exchange, empathizing with what envelops these men and women whose bodies are morphed into unfair but equally awe-inspiring monuments was not forthcoming. But with each page, I was hoping, perhaps against hope,  for a complete resolution. There was none. She hadn’t lost the battle, but resolution remains a work in progress.   Gay writes:

I am as healed as I am ever going to be. I have accepted that I will never be the girl I could have been if, if, if. I am still haunted. I still have flashbacks that are triggered by the most unexpected things. I don’t like being touched by people with whom I do not share specific kinds of intimacy.

So, Roxane Gay, in a few thousand masterfully manipulated words takes us on this magnificent journey into and through a world that we may otherwise opt not to acknowledge. We eagerly and willingly ride shotgun with her as she locates (but does not confront) her violator, sitting outside his office like a maniacal stalker. We completely understand. Still, she puts it all on the table, unapologetically and unexpectedly. For this reason (and a dozen or so more) it is easy to get lost in Hunger; easy to change her crutch of food into the personal crutch that secretly holds you together; easy to become Roxane Gay. Hunger is a thinker’s memoir that, at some point, becomes extraordinarily relatable to every reader. Yes, a few years ago, when I first learned of Roxane Gay, I thought we’d be great friends. After reading Hunger I think she’s already family.

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home — A REVIEW

“Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home,” by Sheri Booker, was introduce to me before I saw the cover. What I read is perhaps that most unique memoir I have come across in a very long time.

Set in Baltimore, “Nine Years…” addresses “life” in the funeral business, but it twists, turns, and journeys beyond the normal expectations of death and gore. It takes the reader into a depth that is unexpected, applying a level of storytelling that is both telling and profound, and that is very welcoming.

Part confessional, part biography, “Nine Years Under…” opens, a few pages in, with the death of Booker’s aunt.  This experience evolves into the unexpected, unpredicted, and ‘unlikely’ undertakers’ Odyssey for fifteen-year-old Booker. Alfred Wiley, the proprietor of Wiley funeral home, sees something special in young  Booker, and oddly, offers her employment (it took a while to understand offering a funeral home job to a fifteen-year-old), and she rises, profoundly, to the occasion. Sheri becomes a sort of protégé in the world of embalming and reconstruction, learning every aspect of the business (she began and remained in the business office for years before she started working on bodies) and letting it shape her into someone she certainly would not have been otherwise.

Throughout the book, Booker prepares the reader for something unexpected. Each page climbs to uncertain destinations. She colors the story with characters that seem almost surreal and often immense. The image of a funeral home is unhinged as she writes of mourners holding their own “form of ceremony” and of fights that spill over into the street in front of the funeral home and the brutal death of personal acquaintances whose lifeless bodies become clients. She lets us into her heart, and into the often complex personalities of her characters. Booker, for example, nails the sometimes tyrannous personality of Alfred Wiley, creating him with broad no-nonsense strokes insisting on uncompromising loyalty and unquestioned commitment, even if he refuses to reciprocate the same (when firing someone he says, “leave the keys”). She confesses a sort of unrequited love for the son of Wiley, but dart strategically through the details, so we are left to wonder the actual depth of their relationship. She does, however, profess the eventual realization that the Booker / Wiley affair was a love that was never meant to be. But even there, it seemed that she held back the details.

The book has magic and equally some moments that feel self-serving, but it does entertain, and it does reveal many unknowns. “Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home” answers questions that many may refuse to ask about funeral homes and the business, and it makes Sheri Booker translucent. Nine Years… is part history lesson, part sit-com, but all a lesson of life, loyalty, love, and death. A worthy read, from a special talent.