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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness



I have just about sorted through all my misgivings about Brianna Karp’s memoir, The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, but I am still not entirely sure how I feel about the book.  So, perhaps, it is best to start at the beginning – with the book’s title.  While it is true that the author may have met the “technical” definition of homelessness for a good portion of the book, I am not convinced that she ever met the “spirit” of that definition.

According to Karp, she lost her job and could no longer afford to lease the “tiny cottage near the beach” in which she had been living.  Consequently, on February 26, 2009, she found herself living in a travel trailer on a California Walmart parking lot (as part of a tiny community of trailers parked there with the tacit blessing of the company).  She did have to rely on retail businesses for bathroom facilities until she found a cheap gym membership that gave her access to the gym’s showers, but Karp had a private shelter all her own to sleep in each night.  Too, it appears that Karp was unsure enough about calling herself “homeless” that she decided to include a rather definitive definition of the word at the beginning of the book.  Two portions of that definition can probably be stretched far enough to qualify her (italics are mine).

            “an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence”

            “a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings”

Wisely, Karp held on to her laptop and her cell phone and turned the closest Starbucks into her daytime home until she found work again.  Unfortunately for her, whatever work she found was either of the distasteful variety or never paid enough for her to make much headway in saving the amount of money needed to move to permanent housing.  She was faced with some hard choices – and she did not always choose wisely.  To Karp’s credit, she did reluctantly find a new home for her large dog after realizing that leaving him cooped up in a small, hot trailer all day while she was out was both cruel and dangerous.  

That was smart.  Not so smart, was the way she handled her relationship with a British homeless advocate she met on the internet.  After the two grew close, Karp used most of her precious savings to fly him to California to make sure that they were as compatible in person as they were virtually.  She even paid for a second round trip after the man had to return to Scotland to deal with the birth of his illegitimate child there.  She bought him a netbook – and she bought herself a roundtrip ticket to Scotland to surprise him at Christmas.  But she was still “homeless.”

Much of The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness covers the dysfunctional, fourth generation Jehovah’s Witnesses family in which Karp grew up; the suicide of her abusive father; and her continuing, poor relationship with her mother and sister.  And the longest section of the book deals with her romance with her British lover and its unsurprising culmination, so, despite its title, this is hardly a book about homelessness.

Brianna Karp
I include the following quote because it makes me question the overall accuracy of Karp’s presentation of her life.  It is something she supposedly said to her British boyfriend when he complained about the quality of television news programming in the United States:

            “Baby, you can’t watch this.  This is Fox News.  It’s not real news.  No wonder.”  Duh.  I grabbed the remote from his hand before he could hurl it at Nancy Grace’s monologuing face.  “How about we try a little CNN?  That should be more to your taste.”

Since Nancy Grace has long been a mainstay of CNN’s Headline News channel, I have to wonder if Karp was as careless with the rest of the “truth” in her book as she was with this gratuitous attack on Fox.  She and her Harlequin editors, in their apparent zeal to take their shot at Fox News, twist the real picture to suit their purposes (or could they really be that clueless?) – making me wonder what else in the book may have been distorted.

I’m rating the The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness at three stars because it makes for interesting reading.  I only wish I were more confident that it all really happened this way.

Rated at: 3.0
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