Friday, June 7, 2013

Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp

Photo: Book cover from the book's images on Goodreads

Very odd but very readable memoir that starts off as the story of Karp's extremely messed-up family (she has a few memoirs still left in the tank on this alone). But it then becomes the story of the unfortunate decisions she makes as she looks for love in all the wrong places.  The publisher is Harlequin, so I suppose this makes sense, but the story arc still comes across as schizophrenic.  The best (as in, well-written) parts are the details of her father's sexual abuse and her mother's mental, emotional and physical abuse, as well as the tenets of their religion--Jehovah's Witness--that makes all that possible.  A very well-written memoir still needs to be written about that alone--about how a religion imprisons the children of its followers.  One does not doubt that what she says here about the religion is true: apparently, a severely abused woman is told to be better to her husband, and the abuse should go away.  This would make a Pulitzer-winning memoir in of itself.  I'll never look at Jehovah's Witnesses the same again.  No longer will they be, for me, the quaint men in black who bravely go door-to-door, knowing said doors will be slammed in their faces, but doing it anyway.

One would think that this would create some controversy, but it hasn't.  What has created controversy, strangely, is the second schizophrenic half of this memoir, where she chronicles her rise from depressed homeless person living in Wal-Mart's parking lot in SoCal (Did you know that some Wal-Marts let homeless people live in their parking lots in their cars and campers?  I didn't.  I'm interested to see if my local Wal-Mart allows this.  If so, kudos to them.  This book brings up something I've wondered about: How are homeless people to sleep in safety if they're not allowed to park their cars in parking lots for fear of being towed?  Where are they to go?) to winning writer/blogger of the homeless and working for Elle Magazine and going on the Today Show to write about it.  The controversy starts when she mentions that some guy came to her trailer to interview her, treated her shabbily and did the same to other interviewees he tried to "help."  She wrote that she asked him to not mention her real name, or her real location.  He does, anyway, and says that it's too late when she complains.

I saw online yesterday that he says all this isn't true, but that he took the video of the interview down anyway, per advice of his lawyer after Karp's book came out.  Surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre...There was also some silly stuff about her not really being homeless, since she (usually) had a car, and a cellphone, and something that resembled shelter.  These people are simply not seeing the true face of homelessness for God knows how many: the homeless of the 2000s won't just be unshaven and bench-sleeping alcoholics and addicts.  They'll be recently-successful people who through downsizing have lost their jobs, and who through the housing crunch/crisis have lost their homes.  In other words, but for the Grace of God, one of most of us...

Even more controversial was her description of how utterly catastrophic her last relationship ends, with the same guy who'd helped her rise from homelessness to super-blogger and Today Show guest.  Lots of stuff online says all or most of this latter stuff was fake, especially the stuff about what happened when she hopped a flight to surprise him at his home across the pond.  Uh-oh...Those never turn out well.  But what happens to her here is truly horrible.  But is it true?  Sounds like it to me, though it does seem incredible that one person has gone through everything she chronicles here.  But being someone who's been to Hell and back several dozens of times, I can assure you with some bitter truth that several lives of horror and travesty can all happen to one person.

Very disturbing to me, though, is how Karp seems to have fallen off the map after October/November of last year.  I went to to see what was new with her (it's her own blog, as well as a site to assist the homeless), to see if she's still homeless.  But the site seems to have been abandoned after Oct./Nov. 2012, as does her other online ventures, including her blog at Goodreads.  What gives?  This is odd for someone with a book released just last year, and for someone who was so ardent a helper with the homeless.  Her public appearances and book-signings also seem to have stopped very abruptly.  There is no Wikipedia page for her, for the book, or for the oft-mentioned website--all very odd for a new-ish author and book.  In short, I have a more thorough web presence than she now does, and that's not good for a new author of a bestseller.  There is not a lot of internet backlash about her book, a la James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, so I wouldn't just assume that she has had to take it all down.

I simply don't know.  One hates to assume the worst, so...I'll prefer to think that she's just taking a well-deserved break from it all.  The last thing I heard about all this is that, in Oct./Nov. 2012, she had to leave the apartment she was in because her landlord was selling, but that she was able to move into a much better place.  If anyone has an update on her, or her website of the homeless, please let me know.  I wish her well, and after reading this book, which you should, you would wish her the best, too.

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