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June 3, 2009 > Book Review: Pretty Much Dead

Book Review: Pretty Much Dead

Boy contemplates murder

A book review by Robert A. Garfinkle

I was totally intrigued by this memoir (or is it really a novel?) from the opening lines to the very last page. Newark author Billy D. Jarrett kept me reading and wondering when he was going to kill Walter, his father. I was never quite sure if this was actually a work of fiction or a memoir. The author tells us it's true. If so, what a tale to reveal to the public.

From the time he was five years old, Billy plots many ways in which he plans to carry out his father's demise. Why? Walter constantly beats Billy's mother and terrorizes his family of three daughters and two sons. The family lives in a roach-infested dump of an apartment in the predominantly African-American part of Gary, Indiana, in the early 1960s and '70s. Partway through the book, they move to the Caucasian side of town, but Caucasians are fleeing just as fast as the African-Americans are moving in. Billy quickly makes new friends and a few boys from the old neighborhood slowly move into the new one.

Billy tells in gripping details the life of his family and the troubles caused by Walter's drinking, short temper, unrelenting abusive language and behavior, and womanizing. Walter's spousal abuse drives Billy to think about how he is going to commit patricide, someday, somehow. I could vividly see the chaos Billy lived through, both in his home and his neighborhoods.

You will be fascinated watching Billy grow from the helpless five-year-old to a strong young man intent on taking care of his alcoholic mother and ending the source of the family's troubles-his own father. Will it be by a club, switchblade, or gun? I'm not telling, but I strongly recommend this book, even though the premise may be sickening, the story is compelling and well written.

Pretty Much Dead
by Billy D. Jarrett
Lionhead Press, 2007, Pp 268
$24.95, paperback; ISBN 978-0-9797616-3-8

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