“We script our lives on reaction rather than action, meaning daily life is always in response to, or a reply to, a command or demand. The world uses us in that way...The world does this--holds us down.”― Randall Horton, Hook: A Memoir
Randall Horton and I have lived wildly different lives. His memoir, Hook, tells part of his story: as an undergrad at Howard University, as an addict, as a cocaine smuggler, as a prisoner, as a reader, as a poet, as an author, as an educator, as a mentor, as a friend. Yes, all of this is part of his story—and, like his story, the book itself is unique. It’s not constructed in a “this happened and then this happened and then this was the result” kind of way. It’s not just his voice.
It’s partly epistolary: Randall exchanges letters with LXXXX, an incarcerated Hispanic woman. They write to each other about family, about incarceration, about the streets. They also talk about books and the writers they love to read and what words on a page have taught them. These letters are signposts throughout the memoir; a way for Horton to brace the narrative of his story. And it works, because it’s true to his experience. He wasn’t on the street alone. He wasn’t in prison alone. He didn’t become who he is today—a professor at the University of New Haven—on his own.
But he did develop, nurture, and use his voice: his poetic, distinctive, make-you-pay-attention voice and it’s this voice that makes this memoir unique. Yes, the story is interesting. It has every element that makes a story readable: the characters are vivid, the pace propelled me, and there was conflict plenty. But it’s Randall’s voice that makes the story sing, and it’s his voice that keeps the story alive in my memory long after I’ve finished the book. An aside: search Randall on YouTube and listen to him read from the memoir or one of his poetry collections. I guarantee his voice will reenter your mind as you read Hook and you'll experience what's on the page in an entirely different--and sublime--way.
Read this book to learn how someone can fall to the lowest depths of addiction, how a promising young student can turn to a life of crime. Read it to witness transformation. Read it to learn about a life wildly different than your own but the same, too: one filled with struggle, with hard-earned wisdom, with redemption.