Published by Doubleday/Transworld
You Got Nothing Coming by Jimmy Lerner
This is a true, or nearly true, story of a white middle class man in prison for murder. He is a corporate planner and tells a tale of survival in a harsh system, where he shares a cell with a room-mate out of your worst nightmare; huge, tattooed, and brutal. It is a dark comedy at times, and at others an exposé of American prison life and politics. Any complaints are met with.. ‘you got nothin coming’
This must be the best prison tale I have ever come across. The story of this middle class man, in prison for manslaughter, is actually and very funny and at times ‘laugh out loud’ hilarious. I know this sounds very unlikely but the use of language and the imagery are original and stylish. At first I found it hard to take all the strong language but then got tuned into it, and used to it, just what would really happen in that environment. The writer has wit and wisdom but also portrays a very frightening and dangerous place which is often out of control.
I read the book so fast to find out what happened that I had to go back and re-read some parts to really appreciate the characters and the skill of this writer. The things said to have happened in the kitchen would be enough to keep me on the straight and narrow for the rest of my life.
The way the writer manages to make comparisons between the corporate training and problem solving tactics of his former life and the problem situations in prison is priceless. He tries to use his middle management skills in a totally hostile environment.
I found myself wishing for opportunities to use some of the phrases, e.g. the perfect understatement of ‘that aint nothin nice’, or to be able to accuse someone of ‘talking out of the side of their neck’ would be so satisfying. No problem in recommending this book, it is a great read.
Guest Reviewer karen Davis
Even though this is the sort of book that I would never have thought of reading, there are many good elements to this novel. Whilst graphic in both content and language, I think that ’You Got Nothing Coming’ is well written and even funny in places. It’s a fascinating insight into how the prison’s systems and sub systems, are created by both the prison officials and inmates alike.
This isn’t an easy read, but I sailed through this novel, because Lerner’s tone is engaging and interesting. By writing this novel he isn’t excusing any of his behaviour and, up until 3/4 of the way through the book, he does not even mention his crime. This is mainly an insight into his experiences whilst in prison.
What’s wrong with this novel?
If I had to make a criticism about this novel, I would say that at times the writing is so well formed, it’s as if Lerner is either writing from the perspective of an uncover investigative reporter, or even writing a fiction novel. I felt Lerner was the observer, rather than the inmate. What helped this though, was that 3/4 of the way through the novel, does go on to write an account of events, leading up to the time of his incarceration thus bringing the book back to his own life story.
Is this worth a read?
This is a book I wouldn’t normally read, but I really enjoyed (possibly not the right choice of word for this type of book!) it. ’You Got Nothing Coming’ is graphic both in detail and language, but everything is justified within the context of the book. If you’re easily offended however, this book may not be for you. If you want to read an insightful and fascinating insight into an element of life that (hopefully) none of us will ever see, then this could be for you.