It always makes me laugh whenever I see “people” (and by “people” I mean “teenage girls who take astrology seriously and listen to Adele”) wag their fingers and tell me that “karma” is going to get me. It’s cute, the idea that good people get rewarded and evil ones get punished. A ten-second look around our world will disabuse you of the notion that our world has any mechanism for dealing with saints and sinners.
Case in point? Eddie Little.
None of you probably know who he is, proving my point for me. I’ll bet most of you know who James Frey is though, he of the phony, Oprah-endorsed drug memoirs A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard. What you don’t know about Frey is that he isn’t just a liar, he’s a plagiarist as well, as virtually all the plot points in both of his books were stolen from Eddie Little’s two (and only) novels, Another Day in Paradise and Steel Toes. The only reason why Frey was never hit with a lawsuit—despite richly deserving one—is because he was smart enough to rob a dead man.
Oh yes, Eddie Little is dead. Barely a month after A Million Little Pieces was published, Little overdosed on heroin in a cheap motel outside of Los Angeles. Even today, nobody knows who he was or that Frey completely ripped him off. And Frey himself is still famous and rich; after being publicly castigated by Oprah, he was given the opportunity to “redeem” himself by writing maudlin novels like Bright Shiny Morning and The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.
So don’t ever fucking try and lecture me about “karma.”
Instead, redeem yourself by reading Another Day in Paradise, one of the finest novels in modern American literature. It’s a slickly written, poignant, funny and frank novel, qualities that are nearly nonexistent in modern culture. Despite being a novel, both Paradise and Steel Toes are heavily rooted in Little’s life growing up on the streets in the seventies, cracking safes, getting in fistfights, shooting smack and getting tossed into juvie hall. Think a more elaborate and bleaker version of The Basketball Diaries:
I release the box which is now stuck under me like I’m stuck under shithead, who’s enthusiastically pounding my kidneys into Jell-O. Grabbing the screwdriver, shoving it into his leg, the only thing I can get at. Now he’s off me and starting to shriek, sounding like a homicidal parrot.
Another Day in Paradise concerns fourteen-year old Bobbie, a streetwise junkie who robs vending machines and steals cars to survive. He’s accompanied by his seventeen-year old girlfriend Rosie, a molestation victim with a masochistic streak. After a hustle ends with Bobbie nearly beaten to death by a security guard, he’s nursed back to life by Mel, a dishonorably discharged army medic turned big-time criminal boss. Together with his neurotic Jewish girlfriend Syd, Mel takes Bobbie and Rosie under his wing and they embark on a career of robbing banks and dealing drugs in Chicago.
Paradise works because unlike Frey’s work, it’s dripping with verisimilitude. Little lived this story when he was a kid, and it shows. His prose rolls off the page street hustler-style, punching you in the gut until you double up on the ground wheezing. The dialogue between Bobbie, Rosie and their partners in crime is fast, funny and as accurate as you can get for seventies hoods:
“The nasty motherfucker had me tied to the bed. They just kept coming, fucking me, using my asshole, fucking my mouth. They stank, there was come all over me, running down my legs and my face. He took pictures, said he’d show ’em to everybody, said I was his whore and he’d kill me if I didn’t work for him, said he’d cut my tits off and pull my eyes out, said he’d fill my pussy with gasoline and light my tongue like a torch.”
There’s also no sentimentality in Paradise. Little is smart enough to know that morals are for churls. His writing depicts the violence and brutality of the criminal life without a drop of the bathos that defines the kinds of books that old lady book clubs love. No matter how many people around him get killed, how many people he has to kill himself, how low he has to go, Bobbie never learns anything. There’s no pot of gold at the end of his rainbow.
Even when his luck finally runs out at the end of the book, Bobbie knows that as long as he’s chasing his addiction, he’ll never escape the criminal life.
You can see why James Frey was so successful in robbing Little’s grave. Another Day in Paradise would never make Oprah’s book club because it doesn’t reaffirm bourgeois prejudices. It doesn’t give the schoolmarms what they want to hear; mawkish racial reconciliation, drugs are bad, mmmkay? preening, and overdramatized death. From encounters with violent neo-Nazis to a run-in with a flamboyantly gay Chicano boss named Jewels, Paradise depicts the criminal underworld in all of its ugliness and ignominy.
For that reason, you owe it to yourself to read Another Day in Paradise. It’s a sick, funny, dark and exhilarating journey through a poorly-understood part of America. An honest portrayal of a world that few survive. An exemplary work by a talented writer who died too young.
Click here to buy Another Day in Paradise.
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