The Bookworm: Dealing with dealing; rags to riches
“The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir”
By D. Watkins
c. 2017, Grand Central
$14.99, $19.49 Canada; 262 pages
Everything has a price. You say you’ll never sell your granddad’s watch, your dream car, or that collectible you coveted because it’s priceless – until it’s not, because everything is for sale. But in “The Cook-Up” by D. Watkins, it may cost your entire life.
Around the country, headlines scream about a heroin epidemic every day. It’s shocking, but what many (white) people don’t know is that, as Watkins says, “if you’re black and poor, the heroin epidemic has been around.”
He should know. For a time, he sold drugs on the streets of Baltimore, where the average life ends so early that “We go through midlife crises at 15 … ”
He was much younger than that when he saw his first shooting; much younger when he understood that drugs were as easy to get as oxygen. He idolized his big brother then; Bip was larger-than-life, a dealer who doted on Watkins and urged him to stay in school. He wanted Bip to be proud of him, so when his brother was murdered just blocks from home, Watkins tried to stay in college but his heart wasn’t in it. Instead, he created his own business with the contents of a safe Bip left him: miscellaneous items, a brick-and-a-half of raw cocaine, guns, and thousands in cash.
With help from a childhood friend, Watkins cooked the cocaine into rocks to sell and as his clientele list grew, so did the number of workers he needed to stay one step ahead. His level of responsibility grew, too; Watkins made sure that folks in his neighborhood were fed, clothed, and safe. That took money, but there was plenty of it.
For months, Watkins and his boys had whatever wanted, the “fiends” had their highs, and cops looked the other way. Things were good until suddenly, Watkins looked around and into the future: he’d met a girl, and he needed to come up with an “exit strategy” for himself and one of his boys.
The problem was, he said, “dudes don’t know when to leave the block alone.”
The first thing you need to know about “The Cook Up” is found on its cover: Watkins himself is in shadow, on the bleakest of stoops, near a doorway covered in plywood. An inexplicable feeling of electricity, then, screams that what you’re about to read is going to be raw, and its right.
With a fascinating tone that sometimes seems impassioned, almost matter-of-fact, author D. Watkins writes about childhoods spent in poverty – his, and that of his friends – and the things it led them to do to survive. Read further, however, and you’ll see that his quiet voice almost quivers with righteous anger and anguish as Watkins’ story progresses to an ending that feels happy and perfect and depressing, all at the same time.
It should go without saying that this isn’t a book for grandma, unless she can handle profanity and violence. If you can handle it, you’ll find that “The Cook Up,” now in paperback, is worth the price of time.
“The Broken Road”
By Richard Paul Evans
c. 2017, Simon & Schuster
$19.99, $26.99 Canada; 304 pages
The road is a long one. Like most, it’s rarely smooth and straight. Signs warn of curves and detours ahead, rough terrain, and rest stops for the weary; there are potholes, and jagged asphalt. And in “The Broken Road” by Richard Paul Evans, there are many side roads to be explored.
The man in the diner looked familiar. On his journey along Route 66, Evans never expected to see someone he recognized. Still, he knew that guy, had seen him on TV, so Evans approached him, indulged in a bit of small-talk, and learned that his instincts were right: there, in a diner on the edge of the Mojave Desert, sat a dead man.
Grizzled and sunburned, but recognizable as the con man he’d once been, Charles James was unashamed. He even agreed to talk, to tell the truth … and so he began.
Growing up, he said, it was a rare day when someone in the family wasn’t beaten. That someone was usually him, and it happened until James stood up to his father, turned the tables, and then left Utah on an L.A.-bound Greyhound. On the way to California, he met a girl who showed him what life could be like, and she helped him find a job.
That job allowed him to gain self-confidence and experience, and a reputation for being a hard worker. He also had an eye for opportunity, so when someone invited him to a get-rich seminar, James knew he’d found his dream job. He started by volunteering with the organization, and worked his way up as a valuable salesman, then a motivational speaker for a product he knew to be a scam. He became incredibly wealthy, then betrayed his mentor for even more riches.
Soon, he’d gained the thing he wanted but lost what he loved. He couldn’t rest. He couldn’t sleep without nightmares, and had been seeing a therapist. She helped him understand where his life was heading.
She helped him see where his next step should be ...
When I got “The Broken Road,” I had to check the calendar, and it’s not December. Author Richard Paul Evans even admits in this novel that he usually writes Christmassy stories, but this isn’t one of those.
Readers who may find Evans’ other books too sappy will be happy to know that in this modified rags-to-riches story, there’s not a lot of romance and no snow; in fact, this book begins on the edge of a desert, and it mostly features a complicated man who’s chased by the demons of his past. Yes, there’s a woman involved, but she’s only a catalyst in the tale; a supporting actress, if you will. The man himself and his immediate circle comprise the meat of this novel, and rightfully so: they are some of Evans’ best characters.
This book will appeal to his fans, but it should also attract new ones, too, because it’s really quite different. Novel readers of almost any genre will find “The Broken Road” to be pretty smooth.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.