When I set down the book, I thought, “Wow, that was so good.”
I cried rivers of tears reading “Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together,” yet I felt happy when I finished the story. Inspired.
I think a good memoir ought to do just that: Evoke emotion and teach some sort of lesson, either one that suggests “Do this” or one that warns, “Don’t do that.”
Ron Hall, the Texas art dealer, and Denver Moore, the modern-day slave, accomplish this in their book written with Lynn Vincent. And someone — either Hall or Vincent because Moore is illiterate — manages to do it with beautiful language and descriptive prose in alternating chapters with the points of view of each man. Here’s a small sample of Hall describing his first time volunteering at a mission for the homeless:
Last to eat were the undiluted street people, shabby and pungent. It took me a while to get over their smell, which floated in their wake like the noxious cloud around a chemical plant. … One long-haired fellow wore a necklace fashioned from several hundred cigarette butts tied together with string. He wore black plastic garbage bags tied to his belt loops. I didn’t want to know what was in them.
On our first day, Deborah, surveying the street people, looked at me and said, “Let’s call them ‘God’s people.'”
I was think they looked more like the extras in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
The book includes background on the two men and how they met, and then it recounts how each of them deal with a terrible tragedy that strikes the “unlikely woman who bound them together.” I won’t spill the beans here, but where the story goes at that point incorporates a great deal of evangelical Christianity sprinkled with prophecies, spirit visits and voodoo.
Moore’s account, written in his slang (“wadn’t” for “wasn’t” and “speakin” for “speaking,” for example), is particularly enlightening since I’m neither black and homeless nor was I raised as a Louisiana sharecropper.
I was transported by the work, but as an author, I’m interested now in how people can read the same book as me and come with a wildly different view of it. So I lurked in the one-star reviews on Amazon (by far, the minority perspective) and discovered this: If you’re not Christian, you may not like the book. And if you demand strict theology in your memoirs, you won’t like it either.
I don’t have a lot of respect for one-star reviewers of memoirs who review a person’s life choices; it’s a book review, not a life review. Gosh, is it really worth that much emotional energy to get so judgmental about a book? But some people felt the protagonist Hall — the “rich” guy — was sanctimoniously inflating his ego at the expense of the protagonist Moore, the homeless guy. I didn’t feel that way at all, and I appreciated Hall’s willingness to admit his faults and errant thinking throughout the book. In the excerpt above, Hall honestly shares how he felt meeting homeless people the first time, and he was appalled. He later learned how to be more accepting. Why insist that he sugarcoat his mistaken opinions?
I saw the world — work, money, life and death — through new eyes of each of the men and finished the book feeling satisfied.