Idea/Concept: Roland O'Brian's memoir recounts in frank and vivid detail the author's journey from a childhood marked by bullying and rage, through a toxic early marriage, and finally into a successful career in law enforcement in Arizona. The author includes questions for reflection, inviting readers to consider how his experience might inform theirs; he concludes the book with a call for Americans to listen to each other, to share our stories, and to understand what we have in common. An invitation into the thinking and experiences of a police officer is, of course, a strong subject for a book, but much of Real Life American concerns the author's memories of childhood, which he presents without guidance to readers.
Prose: O'Brian excels at the kind of detail a writer of police reports must: he quickly, convincingly sketches people and incidents and (especially!) cars. The prose is clear and direct, sometimes confessional, with strongly rendered moments of action. O'Brian is especially good describing conflicts and violence, though the book often stubbornly stays in a summarizing mode rather than offers fully dramatized scenes. Transitions are often casual in the mode of a journal or a blog entry, which works against the development of narrative or thematic momentum. Real Life American also includes very little dialogue, which could help enliven the storytelling.
Originality: O'Brian's experiences are unique yet relatable, and he describes them with vigor and insight.
Execution: O'Brian declares, at the book's start, that his story is worth telling and reading because he is "JUST. LIKE. YOU," an America struggling to find meaning and connection in a tumultuous time. Other than that and some brief questions for reflections, the author offers little guidance to readers about where his story is going or what his story should mean to us over the next 120 pages. Those pages cover O'Brian's bullied, angry youth, and while his memories are sometimes compelling, the storytelling is structured by his chronological recollections rather than a narrative or thematic idea. The story moves in fits and starts, covering year by year the author's encounters with bullies, his refuge in video games, and his occasional crushes. The most interesting passages are the ones where he dramatizes a moment and connects it to the larger themes introduced in his prologue, as when he describes his decision to carry a knife to elementary school.
Date Submitted: December 01, 2019
I just read the prologue. You got me. This IS exactly what WE need right now. To get connected again and relate on common, emotional grounds. I think this book will be a winner, Roland. Can't wait to read more of it.