Prison Noir by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Prison Noir is a collection of tales written by people who are or were prison inmates.
Shuffle: Shuffle is a short tale about a man in a segregated unit who unexpectedly gets a new cellmate. It's a tale of isolation, both forced and by choice.
I Saw An Angel: A woman with only six days until parole struggles to make the right decisions. Also, there's some smuggling of LSD into the prison via an orifice.
Bardos: When an old man dies just months shy of his release, another inmate ponders the nature of time and the Tibetan book of the dead. Of the first 20%, this one was easily my favorite. It's an interesting slice of prison life.
Trap: A first time inmate experiences jail and likens himself to a mouse on a glue trap. This one had some insight but I'm still waiting for a story with a little action in it.
A Message in the Breath of Allah: When he's convinced Allah isn't hearing his prayers, a prisoner finds another way to send Him his message. This story was pretty chilling and one of my favorites in the collection.
Tune-Up: An inmate tries to form a band with other inmates while avoiding the usual pitfalls of prison life. Another good story with a great ending.
Foxhole: An inmate learns that nothing is free in prison and winds up in the hole. This one was another of the good stories.
There will be seeds for next year: After a failed suicide attempt, an inmate returns to his usual routine. Shit, this was one powerful tale of hopelessness and broken dreams.
Immigrant Song: An illiterate immigrant flees trouble in Mexico, only to wind up in prison in Michigan. Another slice of prison life, this one with casual violence.
Rat's Ass: An inmate gets busted making prison wine and begs another inmate to help him get out of it. This was an interesting tale of eventually coming of age in prison.
Milk and Tea: A female inmate recounts the abusive relationship that led her to prison while talking about what prison does to a person. This was the best story in the collection so far.
Angel Eyes: A good-looking new fish gets targeted by Gorilla Black, a prison rapist. Things don't go as expected. This is the kind of story I've been waiting for since I bought the collection. Dark and brutal.
How eBay Nearly Killed Gary Bridgway: Mike's wife is nearly broke after he winds up in jail. Fortunately, the serial killer in the next cell's autograph goes for $400 on eBay. I didn't think there would be any funny stories in this collection but this one was fairly humorous.
3 Block From Hell: This is the tale of a prisoner who feels he's doing the world a favor when he kills other prisoners. It was one of the top stories in the book but contained an error. It was Violet who became a blueberry in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, not Veruca Salt.
The Investigation: Five inmates have to come clean about a murder. This one was a good note to end the collection on with it's talk of being a snitch and how no one sets out to spend decades of their life in prison.
End Thoughts: I picked this up for a buck ninety-nine and it was worth it. It wasn't quite like I thought. With the word 'noir' in the title, I expected more criminal acts and violence. It was still good, though. 3 Block From Hell, Milk and Tea, and Angeleyes were the best.
3.5 out of 5. I may have to give some of the other Akashic Noir books a look.
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