Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham
Publication date: August 30, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Carlotta has had a time of it. She was sent to prison for 23 years because she was holding a gun nearby when someone was murdered. Worse, when she got there, she was a young man who knew he was meant to be a woman. Something the state had no interest in hearing and something that brought her a world of misery because they would not transfer her to a women’s prison. Now, she’s on parole, heading back home to Brooklyn to see her family and her grown son. Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta is a raucous novel of her first 48 hours out of prison.
Given that this is parole, Carlotta has a number of rules she must live by. She needs a job, she needs a place to live, and she can’t be around anyone drinking or doing drugs as she’ll be subjected to surprise visits from her parole officer and random drug tests. For a place to live she’s set at her grandmother’s house. She’s optimistic about the job because she’s got a lead on being a van driver for people with disabilities. Forget the fact she can’t drive; she’ll work around that when she gets there.
From the get-go it becomes clear that the celebratory homecoming Carlotta expects is not going to materialize. Instead, she’s either shunned or unrecognized by family and it’s the Fourth of July weekend so everyone is drinking. She has a check from her prison job, but with no account anywhere and no id she can’t cash it. Having left the outside world over 20 years ago, she flummoxed by the norms of today—no more quarters to ride the bus, people bent over phones, no graffiti in the subway. It’s intoxicating and frustrating.
Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta isn’t going to be the novel for everyone, but while this story shocks and shreds the norms of polite society it shines with creativity. Hannaham’s writing style is a drumline of stream of consciousness street talk from a 40+-year-old Black woman with no life skills, reentering a world that’s changed beyond recognition. This manifests itself as unpunctuated writing that swings among multiple tenses and points-of-view all within a single sentence and all from one woman’s mind. For some this chaos will be too much, but for me it was the only way to represent Carlotta.
As unruly as Carlotta’s uncensored thoughts, her humor is dark and over-the-top, including her thoughts before meeting with the parole board:
“Them sonofabitches said I had bad behavior, but they definition a bad behavior’s if you scream when a CO whupping yo ass like a Betty Crocker fudge cake.”
She evokes the kind of I-shouldn’t-be-laughing laughter because while so much of her life is wrong and brutal, the rapid-fire, percussive beat of her spirit, her love of life, punches through just as hard. This is wild ride reading and I loved it.
If you like your reading sharp, try Hannaham’s vicious social satire, Delicious Foods.
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