Years later, Piper has settled down and is in a happy relationship and is enjoying her career in TV production. Then, one day, there is a knock at her front door. It’s the feds, and her ex-girlfriend has been arrested and is busy bringing down every single one of her former comrades with her...
Orange Is The New Black is the autobiographical account of what happens next (spoiler alert: she goes to prison) and how Piper manages to survive.
I liked Piper in this book, which was a surprise because as a rule I’m not fond of spoilt WASPs or of people who facilitate the drug trade. She came across as an interesting character with a spicy past and she manages to navigate her year in prison and come out the other side moderately unscathed.
What I particularly liked about this book was that Kerman never tries to sugar-coat the poor decisions she has made. She readily paints her younger self as naive, lazy and selfish and she doesn’t try to portray her current, prison-dwelling self as some kind of saint or badly-wronged girl. She never tries to justify what she did to get thrown in jail or to argue that her sentence was unfair, other than to say ‘Yeah, I did a really dumb thing.’
The plot gets a little repetitive towards the middle of the book. I guess when you live in a prison, you’re not going to get a whole lot of variety in your life, but it did feel a little flat after the excitement of the first third of the book. It wasn’t enough to make me want to stop reading, though, and it picked up a lot towards the end.
I think the flatness in the middle of the book stems in some part from Kerman’s survivalist nature. Before she goes to prison, she reads a lot of How To Survive Prison books (yes, such things exist!) and clearly decides that she’s going to keep her head down, do her time and offend no one. She doesn’t raise her head above the parapet, and she treads carefully, both amongst the screws and her fellow prisoners. I can totally see why she does it - it’s probably the tactic I would use - but it doesn’t make for terribly exciting reading.
The wife of a friend of mine used to be a prison officer in a women’s prison in northern England, and some of the stories she used to come out with would make your hair curl. I guess I was expecting Orange Is The New Black to be more like that - more gritty, more scandalous - but I guess you don’t get to dine out on stories of the prisoners who don’t give you any trouble.
I haven’t watched the Netflix series of Orange Is The New Black, but I’m kind of tempted to now. By all accounts it’s a bit different to the book, but I reckon it would be worth seeing.