I’ve been a huge fan of the Orange Is The New Black TV series. Frankly, it’s the only reason I have a Netflix membership. The TV series has sailed a perfect line between grit and humor, all with some great, distinguishable characters that make you watch episode to episode. The hashtag #OITNB is almost synonymous with the new, digital-era craze of binge watching.
With this in mind, I was really happy to see Piper Kerman’s real-life memoir appear in my reading list on Amazon and delved in headfirst; keen to read the true tales of a middle-class prison inmate.
For anyone who’s missed out on the whirlwind success of OITNB; it’s based on the real-life events of Piper Kerman – a middle class woman who dabbled in drug-muling in college, for fun, and was convicted 10 years later, after straightening up, finding a good job, a fiance and a normal life. The rug is pulled from underneath her and she finds herself in a minimum security prison for a brief stint of justice and self discovery.
Typically, with a “New York Times best seller”, I’m wary, but held faith in Orange Is The New Black, simply due to the standard of the TV series.
The book is a memoir, and despite most memoirs being, in some way, exaggerated, for entertainment value (James Frey, anyone?), the Orange Is The New Black book is incredibly underwhelming.
I’d recommend the book to any fan of the Netflix exclusive, simply so you can draw parallels and read the true accounts. It is, however, disappointingly uneventful by comparison…and even then, it comes across as embellished.
It should have been obvious, but a middle class account of life in prison is…well…middle class. Kerman’s brief, eventless stay in minimum security featured a significantly large pile of books, exercise routines and the middle-class past-time of trading favors and using others to her advantage. Her lectures on the virtues of yoga and how to choose a good pedicurist while in the clink are painful to read, as are her attempts to roughen her edges by discussing a newfound love of rap (with lyrics) and recounting that one time she kind-of almost shouted at another inmate. The most vanilla of moments are dragged out and often chapters are built up to crescendo-less endings.
Unlike the TV series, there are little to no conflicts, no controversy and no excitement. Piper romanticizes her crime and seemingly coasts through her time in prison, frequently drawing attention to the fact the inmates and wardens alike thought she shouldn’t have even been there. All the book does is highlight that she felt no consequence to her actions, other than the mild inconvenience of having to find a new hairdresser and tailor.
What’s interesting, is reading the revelations of just how broken the “system” is, particularly from a female perspective, and these moments are frequent, insightful and unbiased. I’d go so far as to say they’re a redeeming quality of the book, since the biographical elements, unless you too are a middle class woman are aggravatingly fruitless.
In conclusion, reading the book makes you really appreciate the fact that it was made into a TV series, since the prose itself makes a very poor argument. If you’re a fan of the TV series, it’s nice to read as a comparison piece and to achieve a little more depth, but if you’re on the outside looking in; it’s really nothing special.