2 out of 4 stars
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In his memoir, The Other Side of Town, author William Pope tells the story of his life. Not one to cut corners, he starts at the very beginning. “I was born really late. How late? About a month. And ever since, I’ve been struggling to play catchup” (3). He goes on to talk about his first experience at sleepaway camp and his wild friend Kenny. He tells us about his athletic mishaps and the scrapes he got into with his friends in middle school. He tells us about his high school struggles to fit in, make friends, and get good grades. He tells us about his first real job at McDonalds, and his first adult job as a janitor.
Pope’s strength is his ability to describe characters. Whether it is the manager, Lewis, at his first job at McDonalds (“a tall, sinewy character with a short Afro”), or his childhood dog, Maggie ("the product of too much inbreeding"), Pope has the ability to paint a picture with his words.
The trouble with The Other Side of Town is that it lacks direction. There is no cohesive theme tying it all together. While Pope’s life experiences have the potential to be relatable, the chapters read like a succession of journal entries. I had trouble staying focused, and at times it was difficult to keep all the names straight. Although the chapters are ordered chronologically, Pope takes creative liberties by skipping around. He’ll introduce a character and then tell us where that person is now. For example, in the first chapter he tells us about a ski trip that he took with his friend Nathan, then tells us that Nathan went on to commit suicide. The effect is, again, like a journal entry. Instead of being able to step into Pope’s life and experience the story along with him, I feel like I am an outsider listening to him chatter about various incidents.
Because the book was organized like a diary, there were some awkward moments when I, as a reader, felt uncomfortable. Pope talks frankly about his feelings toward girls in high school and toward specific girls that he’s interested in. Later in the book he takes us through a graphically detailed description of how he lost his virginity. Because these moments aren’t attached to an overarching theme, and don’t seem particularly relevant to the story, I found myself wanting to skim through these sections, like I would if I had accidentally opened the diary of a high school boy.
At the beginning of the book, Pope claims that the story of his life is humorous. I didn’t find much humor in the stories that he told. Instead, Pope’s narrative style tends toward the quirky. For example, this is how he introduces readers to his parents’ divorce:
Due to these factors, I am rating this book 2 out of 4 stars. There were frequent spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and sentence fragments. Still, I applaud the breadth of Pope's work, and the detail in which he has assembled his life story. The book may appeal to people who enjoy lighthearted journal-style memoirs. At the end of The Other Side of Town, Pope reflects on all the stories he has gathered into this book. Writing this book helped him to take all the confetti-like bits and pieces of his memories and organize them into what feels to him like a really long movie. But underneath the storyline, he feels like he has hit upon another story, a philosophical story. “What does it all mean, right? I gave a glimpse of it here,” he says. “But it still requires another look, a more penetrating look” (175). I would agree with Pope's self analysis. The Other Side of Town is a comprehensive collection of moments in a man’s life. However, I would prefer to wait on reading this book until Pope has a chance to take another look at the narrative and bind it together into a meaningful story.“And now, I blame [my sister] for mom and dad splitting up. Just kidding. It was my brother’s fault. Again, I joke; it was nobody’s fault, really. Hell, I’ll take the blame if it makes everyone feel better. Or we could just blame my parents. Hey, no one forced them to sign those documents.” (71)
The other side of town
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