Author: Cleary Wolters
Publisher: Harper One
Date: June 2015
Format: Hardback (305 pages)
Synopsis: The real-life Alex Vause from the critically acclaimed, top-rated Netflix show Orange Is the New Black tells her story in her own words for the first time–a powerful, surprising memoir about crime and punishment, friendship and marriage, and a life caught in the ruinous drug trade and beyond.
An insightful, frustrating, heartbreaking, and uplifting analysis of crime and punishment in our times, Out of Orange is an intimate look at international drug crime–a seemingly glamorous lifestyle that dazzles unsuspecting young women and eventually leads them to the seedy world of prison.
Filled with colourful characters, fascinating tales, painful sobering lessons, and hard-earned wisdom, Out of Orange is provocative, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring.
Many of you will be familiar with the hugely popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black. A while back I reviewed the book of the same name that the show is based on. Out of Orange was written after the series began by the woman who inspired the show’s character of Alex Vause. She had no idea that her life and that of her ex-girlfriend Piper Kerman (author of the original book) had been turned into a TV show until she saw a commercial for it. Can you imagine that? One minute you’re about to head to bed and turn off the TV, the next you’re stopped cold by a trailer for a show about a past you thought you had left behind.
Cleary describes her reaction with the kind of emotional honesty that she exhibits throughout the book: “I dropped the remote … I realized that what I was looking at was a fucking trailer for my life – and I don’t mean the show being promoted was something I could relate to – I mean, literally, my fucking life. Piper is my ex-lover and I used to be the drug-smuggling lesbian they were talking about.”
I really enjoyed the book Orange is the New Black, and I LOVE the show, but this book was even better than Kerman’s and was almost as addictive as the show itself. Wolters’ style of writing combines humour, engaging narrative and brutal honesty to give a fascinating – and frightening – insight into the world of drug smuggling and the conflicted mindset of someone caught up in it.
At times, it was like reading an exciting adventure story full of interesting characters, suspense and daring evasions of the law. It was easy to forget that this was actually an account of a very real and very dangerous life. Every so often, Wolters would provide a splash of cold water to remind the reader about the harsh reality of the events she was describing. Alongside the money, adrenaline and the chance to travel the world, there was the constant threat of punishment from the drug lords or the authorities if they put even one foot wrong. I really like the way Wolters describes the feeling she has on the morning of a drug run through customs when she has to acknowledge the fear that comes along with her otherwise exciting life:
“My heart palpitated and my stomach flipped when it really sank in, exactly, what day it was. Since I left Chicago, whenever I woke, reality was like a great, but complicated, book I had put down the night before; I had to remember where in the story I was before I could get going again from where I had left off. On a day like this one, it was tempting to leave the book unopened and go back to sleep.”
In the end, of course, Wolters has to pay the price for the life she entered into, and makes no excuses for her choices or attempts to blame anyone else for the consequences. When she first saw the representation of herself on screen in the character of Alex Vause, she worried that this seemingly unrepentant, blasé and lascivious woman really was her. The realisation she eventually comes to is a central theme of the book and forms one of my favourite quotes:
“I cried, banged my hands on the steering wheel, laughed, and drove until I got my answer: no. That wasn’t me. Aside from being tall and gorgeous, Alex didn’t have a sister and was missing some vital ingredients: regret, contrition, faith, and hope.”
This is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read and I would highly recommend it.
Overall Rating: My bookworm rating system is explained here.
Other Works by this Author: This is Cleary Wolters’ first book.