This engaging and nontraditional memoir is truly memorable.
In Rip Off Christmas, self-described “drifter” Christmas Philip recounts his colorful life story. Told in the author’s Jamaican patois, the memoir is like pulling up a bar stool and listening to a gifted—if notably salty—storyteller.
Although this memoir isn’t related strictly chronologically, Philip starts out with memories of his early childhood in Jamaica. The author has a talent for vividly portraying scenes from his life; the sights, sounds, and smells of Jamaica during the fifties and early sixties transport the reader to that place and time.
A move with some of his family members to England is relayed in equally vivid vignettes. Philip details the racism—both casual and systemic—that he and other Caribbean immigrants experienced, as well as his first love and the way his cousin dissuaded him from pursuing the relationship because the girl was white.
As the story continues, it becomes clear that finding a satisfying romantic relationship is a lifelong quest of Philip’s. This quest—along with his motivation to find a place where he feels at home—preoccupies Philip throughout the memoir.
The author seems to write as he speaks: many spelling and grammatical constructions don’t follow “proper” English but rather seem to reflect spoken language. This is jarring at first, but in a sense, the approach lends an immediacy and authenticity to the writing: it’s easy to imagine the tale being told in person.
The colloquial nature of the language is, in fact, part of the appeal of this memoir. Not only is this a dynamic story, it’s told in a dynamic style. The fact that the author’s actions and means of expression are so unpredictable inspires the impulse to keep reading to find out how it will end. This is a rare kind of narrative: lively but not heroic, intriguing but not overly dramatic. Philip has an uncanny knack for crafting the events of his unstable life into a good story.
Some might find Philip’s unvarnished sexual frankness offensive. While there are only a few passages about sexual acts, the vocabulary used around women’s bodies is R-rated. While the author’s unfiltered approach to language lends authenticity, it can be off-putting at times. The final chapter strays from the autobiographical track into a philosophical direction and proves less interesting and cohesive than the rest of the book.
Rip Off Christmas is an engaging and nontraditional memoir about a nontraditional life, with moments of self-reflection and clarity that make it truly memorable.
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