Review of Patricia Williams’ Rabbit: A Memoir, with Jeannine Amber (Dey St, 2018)

Total Fan Now

I knew as soon as I heard Patricia Williams—aka, Ms. Pat—on The Joe Rogan Experience (episode no. 1312) that I had to get her book. Ms. Pat is devilishly funny. I was a fan by the end of the interview and wanted to support her content.

Listen to her on Rogan’s podcast below to see why I was immediately smitten with her brand of comedy:

Unnerving Childhood

What struck me most about Ms. Pat’s description of her childhood, growing up in Atlanta, was how much of it seemed very familiar to anyone who’s spent some time living abroad in poorer, underdeveloped countries—what academics smarter than I used to call the Third or Fourth World but now the “developing world.” Grueling poverty is simply a fact of life in many of these places. I’m reluctant to place poverty at the foot of all our social ills, but in the case of so much of the developing world it really can explain a lot. However, I’ve never deluded myself into thinking that there were not pockets of this type of misery in America. But for those who may have, Ms. Pat’s memoir is a wonderfully pointed reminder of how completely shitty one’s childhood can be in the United States.

The more unnerving side of Ms. Pat’s childhood for me was her family life. Her mother drank and smoked a lot and was involved in a zillion different petty crimes. As a preteen, Ms. Pat and her sister were molested by her mother’s boyfriend. They often had very little of anything nice to eat. A day-old hotdog bun laced with ketchup was a common dinner. At thirteen, Ms. Pat was pregnant. Her crap boyfriend beat her regularly whenever he wasn’t knocking up some other underaged girl. And throughout her teenage years, Ms. Pat sold crack to the black community of Atlanta to keep food on her own table.

Parts of Ms. Pat’s childhood made me think of many of the characters from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. It’s as if magically they were transported to a metro Atlanta of the 1980s and 90s.

Funny as Hell

In spite of all the mishaps and misadventures, Ms. Pat’s retelling of it all is priceless. There are too many scenes from the book to recount here. But for a quick example, here is one about her mother cooking outdoors in downtown Atlanta:

Mama had a lot of ideas that made sense only to her. Like the time she decided to cook dinner out in the yard. I was ten years old and we’d moved to a run-down duplex at the bottom of a hill in a shitty part of town known as The Bluff. We didn’t have any gas in the house because it got cut off from Mama not paying the bill. So she went out and bought herself a charcoal barbecue grill, which she set up on the screened-in porch, right outside our front door.

The only problem was that grill wasn’t made for frying up a skillet full of catfish, like Mama used it for. One evening while she was cooking dinner, the whole porch filled up with thick black smoke. It was so bad that Mr. Willie, who lived in the other half of the duplex, came outside and started hollering.

“Mildred!” he yelled. “Bitch, you tryna kill me?”

“Mind your gotdamn business, you high-yella muthafucka!” Mama yelled back.

They kept up hollering at each other until Mr. Willie decided there was no reasoning with Mama, and called the fire department instead.

The fire truck pulled up to the house with sirens blaring. Mama stepped out of a cloud of black smoke with a fork in her hand, and asked, real casual, “What the hell going on out here?” like her stupid ass wasn’t the reason for all the commotion. When the fireman told her she had to move her grill off the porch before she burned the whole place down, Mama threw up her hands in exasperation:

“Where I’m supposed to cook then?”

“It’s up to you, ma’am,” said the fireman with a shrug. “As long as you keep the grill outside.” That’s when Mama moved her little cooking operation to the front yard. She’d be out there in her faded housedress and a plastic shower cap pulled over her Jheri curl, like she was in the privacy of her own kitchen, not out on full display. As hungry as I was, I would pray for the middle of the month when Mama would run out of food stamps and was low on food, and stop cooking in the yard. Eating ketchup sandwiches for dinner was better than getting teased all day long by kids in class who passed Mama on their way home from school.

Becoming a Comedian

Ms. Pat ends her memoir with the story of how she got up the courage to start standup comedy. A social worker encouraged her to get into comedy after hearing the way Ms. Pat would talk about how she grew up.

Ms. Pat starts to make the rounds of comedy clubs in the South. She eventually finds her way onto a few popular podcasts, where she ends up reaching a larger audience and getting attention of the journalist Jeannine Amber, who helps her put together this book for publication.

Toward the end of the book, Ms. Pat reflects on her experience and the way she uses her real-life experience for material:

But I don’t know if I want to be the poster child for growing up in the hood. Not everybody had it as bad as I did. Plenty of poor black girls don’t get knocked up by married-man predators, and not every kid has a mama who looks the other way. There are lots of poor folks who work hard and take care of their babies. There are teenage moms who make it out of the hood without ever selling drugs or dropping out of school. I just had the extra bad luck to be born into a family that had been beat down for so long, all that was left to our name was a bunch of hustlers and addicts. I had no one to show me the way.

I could have easily have turned out different, ending up like my sister…or all the other girls who I saw get lost to the streets. Instead, I feel like I was specially blessed.

People ask me all the time how I turned my life around… I wanted to turn my life around, and what got me there was love.

Highly Recommended

Ms. Pat’s book Rabbit: A Memoir makes for a wonderful read and I highly recommend it. Consider following her podcast entitled The Patdown with Ms. Pat, which is also a lot of fun! I’m looking forward to her doing a special sometime soon.

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*Rabbit: A Memoir Reviewed by T. F. Rhoden. The image-photo credit for the top of this post goes to the talented Seattle artist Iosefatu Sua. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons license.

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