“The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness” by Brianna Karp
What does “memoir” actually mean? In recent years, I can think of more than one example of someone writing a “memoir” and then, down the road, it coming out that the story told within the book wasn’t entirely true. The events may not have been completely fabricated, but they were definitely enhanced – whether for the reader’s entertainment or the author’s ego/wallet, who knows? Most recently, Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” painted him as a superbly good person, but it turns out his claims may have been largely to siphen donations to his own personal charity.
Maybe it’d be best to keep an open mind when reading a “memoir.”
I ask this because I recently read Brianna Karp’s “The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness,” and found it an engrossing read, even if it did leave me with a few questions and a few moments of thinking, “No way that actually happened.” I bought it, though. People’s lives and stories are their own and crazy things happen to everyone. Her relationship with a guy named Matt, which takes over from the plot of her being “homeless”, may have immediately raised my ‘something ain’t right’ alarm, but people enter into dumb relationships with unstable people all the time. The book is published by Harlequin, so the fact that the final few chapters are the over-the-top of soap operas isn’t surprising. (No joke: Pregnant, Ms. Karp flies to the UK to surprise her “fiancee” – who is having a baby with another woman – only to wind up sleeping in the snow at a train station for days, and thereby causes her own miscarriage yet winds up a tabloid sensation. Mhmm. Also, how many homeless people do you know who can afford international airfare? Round-trip. Multiple times.)
I’m not sure how I feel about this book, honestly. I do not doubt Ms. Karp’s backstory – child of abuse and molestation, finds a job she loves and then gets laid off, and circumstances cause her to wind up living in a camping trailer in a WalMart parking lot. That’s her life story. I accept that as the book’s core. What I take issue with is that nowhere in her book was there ever a sense of the actual danger that most homeless people live with day in and day out. Not having enough to eat is never a fear. Freezing to death is never a fear. I live near an area of Chicago with a rampant and real homeless problem, and I assure you that none of those people have a comfy trailer to sleep in, a car to drive, and the time and internet access to blog about their experiences. We live in difficult times, and I’m sure homelessness has many faces, but it’s hard to accept how hard the whole thing is when shopping for vintage fashion is still a concern.
Post-reading, I took to the internet to see what happened to Ms. Karp in the months/years to follow the publication of the book. It appears her blog has vanished, which is a shame – because it could have helped people in circumstances like hers, or even people who want to learn more about what the experience of being homeless is like. She last tweeted in 2012. Per the one article I could dig up, she’s employed and at least has an apartment now. So good for her.
I don’t know what I just read. Maybe it was an enhanced memoir. Maybe I should take it as fiction. Whatever it was, whatever happened, “The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness” was engrossing, and infuriating, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.