Sunday, February 11, 2007

Have Another Cupcake

I’ve been dividing my reading time between I Like You and another cupcake-related book, the memoir A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown. The book starts with Cupcake, age 10 (I think) discovering her mother dead following a seizure of some description. Owing to massive incompetence/corruption on the part of California’s social services, Cupcake gets placed in an abusive foster home. In rapid succession, she is brutally raped, becomes a runaway, an alcoholic, an on-again-off again prostitute, a shoplifter, a full-spectrum drug addict, a gangbanger, a cat burglar, a car thief, and a forger of documents. All this before she turns 20.

After getting a fellow druggie to “fix” some documents stating that she’d completed her training as a legal secretary (when she hadn’t) with a straight-A GPA, she makes up some sham resumes and starts interviewing for jobs. Unbelievably, she gets hired. She always comes to work high and/or drunk, with her hair uncombed, her teeth unbrushed, and her eyes gunky with sleep. She’s always late, she frequently fails to turn up, and then, once she discovers there’s such a thing as bereavement leave, she starts telling her employers that various and sundry grandmothers and brothers (that she doesn’t have) have died just so she can get paid time off.

By the middle of the book, I found I had gone from empathizing with her to disliking her intensely. In addition to her total lack of responsibility she was running every scam she could think of (maxing out credit cards under a false name and selling her rental furniture). Scammers and cheaters really push my buttons.

According to the book jacket, however, Cupcake is now practicing law—yes practicing—at one of the nation’s largest law firms. By page 300 or so (the book is 470 pages long) I still couldn’t imagine how on earth she was going to turn her life around. It seemed so irretrievably fucked up. But she does. She gets sober and with a lot of help from her 12-step program friends and her incredibly generous employer she works her way through community college, then regular college, and gets into law school—all of which was a terrible struggle. To get up to speed with math, she had to take a math class that started out with 1+1 = 2. That basic. She was 27 when she took that class. Imagine what a humiliating blow that must have been. I would have wanted to give up then and there.

The book is very far from being the best written thing I’ve ever read. There are times when Cupcake uses words incorrectly. Normally I’d be handing out all sorts of demerits for that, but the story is so compelling and—dare I say it—inspirational that in the end I was happy to cut her some slack on the technical aspects of her writing skills. I stayed up past 1:00 AM some nights because I just couldn’t put the thing down. Clearly, she knows how to tell a story. As someone who, fortunately, doesn’t have an addictive personality, it was a real eye opener as to what it’s like to be in the iron grip of addiction.


Post a Comment

<< Home