You Got Nothing Coming
, Jimmy A. Lerner's memoir of his first year (of a possible 12) as an inmate in a Nevada state prison, is a shocking, hilarious, and heartbreaking narrative of a world both parallel to and absolutely alien from the one most readers inhabit. With deft, economical prose, Lerner, a middle-aged former marketing director for a major corporation, introduces us to his fellow inmates--swastika-tattooed skinheads, Wiccans, methamphetamine addicts, and fashion-conscious prostitutes, among others--as well as a multitude of prisoner scams, nonexistent but on-the-books rehab programs, and the life-or-death intricacies of the convict code of etiquette. Lerner's ear for prison language is pitch-perfect, and much of what we learn comes directly from the mouths of the incarcerated. Lerner has, in effect, written a nonfiction novel, one artfully laced with mordant humor and by turns tender, caustic, insightful, and relentlessly candid. --H. O'Billovitch
From Publishers Weekly
In the mid-1990s, Lerner killed a man in Las Vegas. Convicted of voluntary manslaughter, he's now doing time in the Nevada state prison system (he's due to be paroled in January 2002). Even so, he quickly earns, and keeps, readers' sympathies in this wholly engrossing memoir of his time behind bars in part because of the charisma of his voice, in part because of his book's clever structure, which has Lerner come clean about exactly why he's in prison only near the book's end. For 18 years an executive for Pacific Bell, Lerner employs a voice that's charming, canny, sassy, self-deprecating; a voice perhaps not to be entirely trusted, but one that's deeply magnetic. Certainly as a middle-aged, middle-class, highly educated white, Lerner brings an unusual perspective to his prison experiences, which he plays on throughout. "Curiouser and curiouser I felt like Alice fallen into the rabbit hole," he writes. Readers will share that sentiment as, along with Lerner, they negotiate prison life and culture, where you don't enter a man's house (cell) without his permission and where a usable chess set can be fashioned from wet toilet paper and stale toothpaste two examples of the hundreds of details with which Lerner grounds his tale. Curiouser still are the prison denizens he describes, misfits and malfeasants all, most notably his longtime cellmate, Kansas, a white supremacist who takes a shine to the author fortunately, as Kansas is the top "dawg" of the cons. Eventually, Lerner loses his "fish" (newcomer) status, growing adept at prison ways and slang ("And every Righteous Con in the joint knows a catcher ain't nothin' but a punk-ass bitch!"), carrying readers along with him up to the book's final chapters, that is, where he flashes back to the crime that sent him behind bars in passages that reek of self-justification. Overall, this is the most gripping, and most inviting, prison memoir in years. (Feb. 12)Forecast: Any book by a convicted killer, especially post-Jack Abbott, may face some media and public resistance, but the national radio campaign and other publicity planned by Broadway should bring this title serious attention and healthy sales.
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