Nobody Wakes Up Pretty by Diane Lefer is a book that takes you on a trip through racist 1990s New York. It’s punchy, gritty, has a few patches of seriously real and squelchy sex, and its message is more than relevant in today’s civil rights climate.
Diane Lefer feeds you through a blender of experiences you’re unlikely to have ever had for yourself. Written from the point of view of a thirtyish Jewish woman, Holly (who has spent her adult life deliberately fitting into a black neighbourhood), it describes a series of tragic murders and other injustices suffered by young black men (and some women), all of whom are connected to Holly in some way, and reaches a terrible yet strangely just conclusion.
Or … it’s maybe not that it is a just or fair conclusion, but that it is somehow fitting to the book’s message. Even when justice is met in some way, those who are disempowered and discriminated against will still lose out; but with enough wisdom and thought, and experience in the world, everyone still has power over their own destiny, no matter how hard others try to take that away. Stepping out of the system, instead of fighting it from within, is the only way to be empowered.
What’s special about it?
This book’s specialness comes from two quarters.
First, its realness, which includes the fact that you are always aware you are shown events from a white woman’s viewpoint, even though the story is focused on the civil rights – or lack of them – of black people. At no time does it pretend to understand the fight from a black point of view, even though it is hugely sympathetic to the cause, and that’s a level of honesty I, for one, can appreciate. It’s dirty, bloody, and its characters leap from its pages and walk away without looking at you. Maybe they’ll survive. Maybe they’ll be cut down in the prime of their youth.
Second, it is written with a strong sense of justice. Its themes and described events are powerful and familiar (given recent events in America), and it more than implies that nobody should look away now, or be afraid to stand up for what is right, or to decry what is obviously and painfully wrong.
Will you like it?
If you watched (and loved) early Spike Lee movies, spent your student years protesting for the rights of people you’ve never yet met, and deep within yourself wish that diversity was welcomed and multiculturalism a real thing, Nobody Wakes Up Pretty, by Diane Lefer is for you.
If your politics are to the Right, you think immigrants (and migrants) should go home, and that white people are ‘better’ than black people, this probably isn’t for you.