Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

I probably shouldn't have read this so soon after Orange is the New Black. Or maybe read them in reverse order. But after reading Piper Kerman's story, I am less sympathetic to Neil White's. He is not only a people-pleaser, but someone who is pretty obsessed with outwards appearances and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. Because of this, he ends up check kiting when his magazine publishing business gets into financial straits. The first time it happens, in Oxford, Mississippi with a newspaper, he was able to get out of it (he got some investors to cough up more money to pay off the discrepancies. All the investors lost their money.) And not only did he not learn, but the second time around he put a lot more people's livelihoods on the line, and lost a lot more money.

Then, after getting busted he's sent to a white-collar prison that is pretty cushy. True, it shares ground with the Carville Leper Colony (the last in the U.S.) but it's none too harsh. In fact his biggest complaints are that he can't have an iron or cologne, and he also can't just hang out and chat with the leper patients. Towards the end, he does seem to start having some regrets and realizations about his actions, but I was surprised a bit by how little he grew as a person. He is honest about that, and it's probably true more often than not, but I was hoping for a little more introspection and growth.

Now that he's out, I hope he's really truly straightened his life out. And not just not kiting checks anymore - I hope he's realized what's truly important in life, and it's not having a boat. He seems like he might have, but I would have liked a longer epilogue. Overall I did like the book. It was well-written, read fast, and has one of the most unique settings imaginable, however it does pale in comparison to Orange. It's unfortunate for Mr. White that I read these so close together as I think I would have enjoyed this so much more if I'd read it a year earlier. This book would be perfect for someone who would be interested in reading about what prison is like, but worries that a prison memoir might be too harsh and harrowing.

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