Bookworm: You’ll like ‘Sink,’ but it can be a wild read

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Sink: A Memoir”

  • By Joseph Earl Thomas
  • c. 2023, Grand Central Publishing
  • $28, 256 pages

What, were you born in a barn? You think you’re some kind of hyena, cackling over there? Running around like a herd of elephants, like a bunch of wild mustangs, like a herd of buffalo, stomping and bellowing. Simmer down. Were you raised by wolves? Or, as in the new memoir, “Sink” by Joseph Earl Thomas, is life just all kinds of bull?

“Sink: A Memoir” by Joseph Earl Thomas.

Mika always got what she wanted, which was a good. The truth was that Joey wanted an Easy-Bake Oven but he knew that if he asked for it, Popop would call him a sissy, or worse. So, Mika got the Oven, Joey used it, and he used it to hide a notebook that he filled with drawings of sea serpents and cobras and lists of people he hoped would die.

At the top of the list was Popop. Joey wrote his name in small print, over and over.

Popop wasn’t really Joey’s grandfather; he was the man Joey’s Ganny lived with and he had complicated ties with Keisha, Joey’s mother, who supposedly visited Popop in prison once. She only came around when she needed a place to do drugs or when she dropped off another baby at their overcrowded Philadelphia house. Joey didn’t like Keisha much.

Ganny wasn’t around all the time, either, really; when she was, she made sure Joey and Mika had real food because they were always hungry. Popop bought food but how was a kid supposed to cook it? Just saying they were hungry made Popop turn mean but Joey could run faster than Sonic the Hedgehog, which only made Popop madder.

Could Joey help it that he was a gentle boy? Was it his fault that he didn’t want to be tough, that he just wanted his Pokemon cards and Sega cartridges? And the games his “Aunt” Tia played with him...? He wasn’t sure about those games; grown-ups should probably never see them.

“Sink: A Memoir” author Joseph Earl Thomas.

Who would blame a boy for living inside his own drawings?

For many readers, “Sink” is going to take some getting used-to.

Written in third person, this memoir opens with physical abuse, drugs, and prostitution, three things that never abate. They’re a constant undercurrent floating the entire rest of the story of “Joey” as he grows up, and to say that this tale has very little sunshine is to put it mildly.

That’d be hard to take if it weren’t for author Joseph Earl Thomas’s sparkling prose.

Joey was a nerdy kid surrounded by people who wouldn’t tolerate it – and yet, there’s joy in his imaginary life. Thomas uses that to give Joey a place to hide, and as a relief, to pause the story and allow for a rush of breath. There are times when the adult-you might wonder how anyone survived that. Let the kid-Thomas show you.

Beware that four-letter words heavily populate this narrative, and that while it’s a cringer, it’s also sometimes funny and sweet. It’s true that you’ll like “Sink” but it can be a bit of a wild read.

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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. Read past columns at