Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is a fascinating and disturbing book. She looks at the downward spiral of one family in the Bronx, as girls become welfare mothers, and boys become criminals, along the way everyone’s life becomes more miserable. The book starts out chronicling the lives of Jessica and her brother Caesar, Puerto Rican Americans living in the ghetto in the Bronx. Their mother has had four children and they are living in poverty. Jessica had her first child at 15 and eventually ends up with five. Along the way she hooks up with an abusive but successful heroin dealer, Boy George, who was somewhat of a minor celebrity and an acquaintance of Mike Tyson. Eventually he is put away for life and Jessica is also incarcerated as an accomplice, while in prison she has an affair with a prison guard and has twin babies, immediately she becomes involved with a younger married man. Her brother Caesar seduces Coco, who becomes a major character and several other girls, as he starts his life as a criminal robbing drug dealers and regular citizens alike before accidentally killing one of his best friends. Coco ends up with four children from three fathers constantly struggling to raise them in a poverty stricken environment.
It’s as if the conditions and situations hinted at in the novel I read earlier, Clockers, have been fully explored and the vicious circle of physical abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, drug abuse, and criminal behavior continues among poor choices and a lack of preferable options out of poverty and the ghetto. I have to say reading it took a toll on me, I had to put it down on occasion as the people chronicled in the book continue to screw up, lie, make poor choices, and set the stage for the failure of their children who have never experienced a stable home in their lifetimes. This was one of the books recommended by Nick Hornby, who found it fascinating, but I find it fascinating in the way that a car wreck is fascinating. It also shows what a little bit of money a stable living environment would make all the difference in the lives of these people on the edge, especially the children who don’t have responsible adults to look after them as they are sexually abused, left on their own, beaten, left to eat candy whenever as their teeth rot out, and the imprint of improper behavior becomes ingrained in them. Not a book for the faint hearted, it is a heartbreaking story. Albeit just one of millions I am sure.