Sunday, April 5, 2015

Review: Orange is the New Black

Author: Piper Kerman
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
My Rating: ★★★(3 of 5 stars)

OITNB-Piper Kerman
Image courtesy of Google Images


Netflix’s hit comedy-drama series Orange is the New Black is the kind of show that should be labeled “bad for viewers who got heaps upon heaps of important things to tend to”, simply because a single episode could hold you captive (no pun intended) and make you forget about the said piles of responsibilities until you blink at your clock and realize you’ve just twelve hours watching the whole season. I should know—I’ve been singlehandedly thrown back into my couch potato mode when I got a hold of the first two seasons. Naturally, when I learned the series was based on a book, I know I have to pick it up.

Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is a short albeit delightful treat that is as engrossing as its web series counterpart. It follows the story of Piper Kerman, a “nice blond lady” who had to serve fifteen months in prison for her association with a drug-trafficker when she was still in her early twenties.

With the fast translation of books to TV series and movies nowadays, I have learned to work my way in the middle as a consumer who actively churns out my opinions about my favorite stories that happened to be presented in both formats. I have learned that for the most part, I favored books since they have always contained more honesty and more care for details. I have learned that TV/movie adaptations have a way of romanticizing scenes for a greater on-screen impact or aesthetics.

In the case of Orange is the New Black, I was right about the romanticizing part. But while I expected the book to be a patchwork of watered down scenes from what I have seen in the show, I still anticipated reading about a few things that could send brutal punches in the gut, things that could stand as eye-openers to society about what was really transpiring behind bars and in the American penal system—things that might have been the reason why this memoir received several thumbs up. Truthfully, I expected grit…lots and lots of it. Instead, what I’ve read about are the “normal” day-to-day accounts of prison life, which are not as bad as I thought they would be and could sometimes border on being soporific. The memoir actually reads like an all-women mixed-race/class Big Brother show except that everybody looks forward to being “evicted”, if you know what I mean.

That was not exactly a bad thing, of course. Reading the book was a very different experience compared to watching the series. While the show focused on the complex and often tumultuous relationships between the main characters, the memoir proved to be more insightful, zeroing in more on Kerman’s feelings, thoughts, and realizations. There were strings of hard-won lessons and advice there that could strike a chord with the readers. A few things that are begging for reform (i.e. facilities, BOP’s ‘ineffectual’ programs, etc.) were mentioned but were not mightily underscored.

Kerman’s storytelling was clean and she managed to throw in dollops of good wit and humor that buoyed the portraits of the inmates that she brought to life in her writing. However, some parts become repetitive, becoming a tad too banal and long-winded for a great read.

Oh, and I may have to say this too: in the end, I gleaned that TV-Piper was not entirely different from the real-life Piper, as she proved to be leaning a little on the high-and-mighty type. Throughout the book I couldn’t seem to see the narration detach itself from the “I’m white and better than and a class apart from you” vibe hidden underneath a thin veil of humility and friendliness. In fact, a little voice inside my head asked, “How many of those friendships do you think are genuine, and how many do you think did she establish for the sake of survival?” But hey, maybe that’s just me. :)

Be that as it may, Orange is the New Black proved to be a decent read in my commute to work and back, so here’s the three stars for that.

PS: I’d be waiting for season 3 of the show, of course.

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