The thing about being poor is that you never quite realize it until something happens—a moment of shame that puts you in your place, or an embarrassment that flushes your truth out for everyone to see.
The thing about being really poor, though, is that you realize it all the time.
We veered between different points along the spectrum, traveling one way and another driven by the ups and downs of an economy nobody really understood and that was entirely out of our control. At its best, we were upwardly mobile with eyes on the future. At its worst we were bankrupt and homeless. I think a lot now about how my parents, who were just kids themselves really, made their way through. Life on the estates was good but never simple, although I never quite understood what was happening until I was older—we were too proud, maybe, or I was just too unaware of what life outside looked like to make a comparison. It was only when I went to university that I really understood I was poor.
In The End of Eddy, a memoir by Eduoard Louis, he knows it from the start. Eddy’s family is angry, ground down by alcoholism and disability. He’s the youngest of a brood growing up with nothing in a world where most people have everything (Louis grew up in the 90s and 2000s: this is not ancient history.)
When the book came out, it got the same kind of dewy-eyed “staggering insight into rural poverty” notices—a Hillbilly Elegy for the France of Le Pen and, later, gilet jaunes.
But this book isn’t the tale of France; it’s not even not the story of a dirt poor, rural French family. It’s the tale of the gay son who needs to escape his life to find something different.
The End of Eddy has its own strange momentum. The writing is raw in places, although more in the sense of being unfinished than heartfelt. It’s direct; horrifying at times, but never quite beautiful. Eddy is full of rage and conflict and betrayal, and I liked that I didn’t find him likeable, which feels perverse to write down. The thing is, nobody is a hero here, although maybe when Eddy describes discovering what the world wants to do to him—emotionally, sexually, physically—you are at least on his side. His poverty is not a surprise, but it’s what that lets the world do to him that crushes you.
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