Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown

A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown is the harrowing story about a young girl’s experience losing her mother and trying to survive a system that simply didn’t care.  Her journey moves her through prostitution, joining a gang, drug usage, and more.  It is relentless and heartbreaking and ultimately numbing.

When Cupcake finds her mother dead one morning, the reader can’t help but feel a deep compassion for this poor child.  No young girl should survive the loss of a loving parent, let alone be the one to find her body.  Her heretofore absent father, a man she never knew, shows up long enough to find out that neither Cupcake nor her brother are going to inherit any money until they turn eighteen; this revelation results in the siblings being dumped into a foster care situation that introduces Cupcake to alcohol and rape.

Unfortunately, there is no love lost between the brother and sister leaving Cupcake to cope on her own.  She runs away from the abusive foster home situation, learns how to make money through prostituting herself because men, and women, are willing to pay extra for a younger prostitute.  She tries to return to the people she knew as family: her maternal uncle, a man who was the only father she had ever known, an aunt.  Every time the system would intervene and return her to the foster home.  Even when living with her aunt, she is introduced to gang life, is initiated into the neighborhood gang and eventually ends up in the hospital after being shot.

That she survives all of these things is a miracle.  Eventually, she emancipates herself and marries a man whose drug use and abuse nearly matches her own.  Throughout it all, she lies and manipulates her way to what little success she can experience.  She goes to school to learn how to be a legal secretary and pays someone in the administrative office to give her credit for successfully completing the course.  She lies on her resume repeatedly, saying she has worked longer at various offices, made more money, and moves from one position to another, always doing better professionally and financially but, because she is an addict and unable to control her self-destructive behaviors, these jobs ultimately end up with her being fired.  But since she is constantly given a two week’s notice, she is able to find another and better position.

Of course, you know the story has to have some positive conclusion because, although her life seems to be heading to an early demise, she is writing about her life.  We know she survives and presumably we want to know how.

Halfway through the book, I simply didn’t care.  At first I read the chapters slowly, so aggrieved for Cupcake and aching for her misery.  I even felt guilty for being able to close the book, able to walk away from her story, knowing that as a little girl she did not have that choice, that she could not close the book and walk away from being raped, beaten, deprived, abused, etc.  But somewhere near the middle point I was tired of it all.  She used drugs.  She denied she had a problem.  She lied.  She stole.  She cheated.  She still succeeded.  So much of the book focuses on her destruction and disease and so little of it on her healing and success, that it felt as though she were merely bleeding and vomiting and weeping on the page.  Three fourths of the book is about the worst of her life and then the last fourth rushes through her recovery, her return to school, her getting her life back in control.

Perhaps someone suggested to her that people don’t want to celebrate and rejoice.  It reminds one of the opening line in Anna Karenina: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  Cupcake’s unhappy childhood and young adult experiences are exhausting to read and relentless in how heartbreaking they all are.  But so much time is spent on these painful parts and so little given to her recovery, it almost seems a disservice to her experience.  Given the redundancy of the experiences, an editor could have easily suggested she condense some of the stories, merge or remove chapters, or somehow communicate how painful it all was without our having to read yet again about her short skirts, her getting into a drunken fight, etc.  We get it; her life sucked.  It really sucked.  Okay.  But now it is so wonderful and deserves to be celebrated.  Too bad you won’t read about that with the same attention to detail.

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