by Patricia Williams (with Jeannine Amber)
I did not read as many books in 2017 as I aimed for, but I did read more books than I wrote about here. Life is so full and busy these days, both reading and blogging have fallen somewhat by the wayside. I’m hoping to give both a bit more attention in 2018.
The first book I’ve finished in this new year is Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams. I’ll be honest and confess that I am completely unfamiliar with Patricia Williams – never heard of her before this book was chosen by my book club – although she is apparently a well-known comedian. Truth be told, I’m not exactly up on the whole comedian circuit in any case.
In some ways, Rabbit tells a familiar story of a deprived, dysfunctional childhood full of abuse, neglect, and downright shocking circumstances and incidents (there’s a whole subgenre of these memoirs; see The Glass Castle, The Liar’s Club, All Over But the Shoutin’, Running With Scissors, and even Fun Home). What sets Williams’s story apart, though, is that while most (all?) of the other such memoirs out there are the stories of white people, hers is the story of being black and female growing up in the ‘hood. And being black and female is a whole other ball of wax.
One of five children of a down-and-out, alcoholic, single mother who spent the first several years of her life living in her grandfather’s “liquor house,” Patricia, dubbed “Rabbit” by one of her mother’s boyfriends, was instructed by her mother in the vocation of pickpocketing the drunks who passed out in the house daily by the time she was eight. Always without money, love, or guidance, and often without enough to eat or gas, electricity, or hot running water, she was pregnant by age 13 (I have 13-year-old twin daughters, and being faced with the reality that 13-year-old girls in the world get pregnant and have babies elicits a visceral response in me) by a 20-year-old married man, and had two babies by age 15. With virtually no frame of reference as to how to navigate her life other than the criminals and addicts she had always been surrounded by, she turned to dealing crack to support herself and her children – and was very successful at it. Over the years, she was shot twice, arrested, and beaten – just to list a few things.
And yet, she tells her story with an immense wise-cracking humor. This isn’t a book that asks its readers to feel sorry for its subject. Ms. Williams does not seem to have a victim mentality, despite the horrific things she’s lived through. She lays it all out in a matter-of-fact way, without portraying herself as saintly, or even sinless, and tells it all with a wit that obviously comes naturally to her.
The fact that she ends up becoming a successful comedian and getting her memoir published tells you that she turns her life around and gets out of the ‘hood, but it’s worth reading how her resilience and unfailing sense of humor get her there. It’s also an eye-opening look into what it means to grow up black, female, and poor in America.