Thursday, June 20, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: Out of Orange

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on September 1, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Out of Orange - Cleary Wolters
Harper One
320 Pages

I really like the Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. While I have not read Piper Kerman’s original memoir, I did have to pick up Cleary Wolters’ memoir about her time in prison, Out of Orange. Cleary Wolters is the basis for Alex Vause, played by Laura Prepon in the show. As a fan of the show and a fan of Prepon, I grabbed this book and brought it home.

The story retold in this memoir is far different from the Hollywood, airbrushed epic on Netflix. Wolters details her early life and the struggles she faced with her mother and father. Unlike the dramatization on television, a life of crime is not sexy or glamorous. It is dirty, dangerous, deadly. Prison is no better. After reading this book, the mostly happy-go-lucky image of the television show is very obviously contrived.

In the beginning, Wolters is entranced by the seemingly dazzling life of an international drug smuggler. She and her smuggling partners live the high life in fancy hotels as they cross the globe from exotic locale to exotic locale muling illegal drugs. Who wouldn’t love to visit Morocco or Paris with all expenses paid by your employer. All you had to do was bring contraband across international borders with all the risk falling squarely on your head. Seems like a great deal, right? Cleary Wolters vividly details why this idea is so terrible.

These narcotics kingpins are ruthless. They will take any means necessary to ensure they will be padding their pockets with rolls of cash. As Wolters explains, if you try to leave the game, they will go after loved ones, drag them in, and threaten their lives unless you continue to work for them.

At some point, Wolters and a couple friends decide they should be able to hire their own mules, eliminating the need for them to actually take any risk. Of course, the old boss does not like adding any more risk to his operation by adding people he doesn’t know into the process. This starts a string of events that eventually lands Wolters and her sister in prison.

In the midst of all that, Wolters meets Piper Kerman, and they become lovers. Wolters initially attempts to keep Piper out of the muling, but eventually the other woman becomes involved. They did break up and drift apart before their respective arrests. They saw very little of each other, until one day after their sentences were over, Wolters discovered that Piper had written a book about her life in prison and how she got there.

Upon hearing the news of the publication, Wolters was wary about what it could contain. The drug dealer they were working for was still at large, wanted by the authorities. Who knew how long his tendrils could reach? Was she in the book? Was there anything that could implicate any of them for any other crimes? When Wolters read the book, she realized that some of what Piper had written was romanticized. Her rebuttal was Out of Orange.

Cleary Wolters unveils the ugly truths behind Orange is the New Black. I love the television program. It’s humorous and terrifying at the same time. Out of Orange adds more depth to the story being told on the screen. That was the most enjoyable part for me.

However, some of the writing by Wolters is clearly the author whining about her station. There is definitely some overt jealousy towards Piper Kerman and her post-prison success. This does distract the reader from the story of her imprisonment. Wolters does give us a lot of the backstory before prison, but is generally pretty light on her time in the hoosegow. Maybe she thought the show covered that well enough but the story of how they got there was more important.

I enjoyed Out of Orange. While it definitely has its shortcomings, it adds another layer of story to the popular television show. It is a good companion piece, and should be read in conjunction with that show. Somewhere between the two, the true story of how bad decisions can affect of your life can be revealed.

Craig Bacon has not only never been in jail, he’s never been in the back of a police car. He plans on keeping that streak alive.