Grace After Midnight

“How my hair look, Mike.” Snoop’s final words in The Wire

The cold young androgynous killer Snoop was one of many memorable characters in the acclaimed tv series The Wire.  Actress Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson exemplified multiple aspects of that show’s importance and relevance.  Along with hundreds of other cast members over the five series she was a Baltimore native, familiar with the complex personality of that city.  Beyond that she was a part of that personality, too closely familiar with its poverty, its drugs, its spiralling murder rate.  Like the character whose name she shares, Snoop ran with the gangs, robbed, dealt, and killed a woman.

Grace After Midnight begins with the birth of a cross-eyed, underweight baby girl to drug addict parents in East Baltimore.  Felicia grows up between her mother and her foster parents where as she puts it ‘Death lived on our street.’  Childhood as I knew it barely existed there, before she was ten years old Felicia had realised and made steps towards enabling her sexuality, and acquired a gun, thrown at her by the boy she sees shoot another right in front of her.

Written in an open, blunt demotic (in collaboration with David Ritz), Grace After Midnight is a chilling account of how drugs and violent behaviour can quickly become the only option for the young black american city poor.

This is how it goes.

Cousin shot. Cousin I loved. Same cousin who always brought me Chinese food. Cousin who liked to get high on weed and laugh with me for hours.

One day Cousin is running around.

Next day Cousin is paralyzed.

Ain’t no average days.

So Felicia, the Smurf-loving kid becomes Snoop, called that by local dealer and her mentor ‘Uncle’, the tomboyish, lesbian, trouble-seeking teen.  Until the day trouble finds her and Snoop kills a woman who jumps her in an alley.  It’s self-defense and she is sixteen years old in Jessup prison.

The prison scenes are oddly the least shocking here, Snoop’s bravado tempered by wisdom she accredits to Uncle and to a relationship with a warder. even the recounted tale of the woman who burnt her own house down is somehow detached, dreamlike, because in prison Snoop studies, takes her GED,and despite hostile teachers, she says, she gets it.  Then Uncle is killed and Snoop has an epiphany.

Awaiting trial she and her fellow inmates learn that Tupac, who visited her Baltimore neighborhood a few weeks earlier, has been shot.

“Tupac Shakur shot in Las Vegas”

That’s what the news said on September 7, 1996.

For those of us sitting around city jail, it was like the president was shot. Only worse. We couldn’t relate to the president. But all of us sure as hell could relate to Pac. …

The crowd down at city jail wasn’t a praying group, but we had us some prayer meetings.  We prayed that Pac’s life be spared.  …

We wanted him to stay alive.

And then on the sixth day after the shooting, he died. Respiratory failure. Cardiac arrest.

I didn’t wanna talk about it. Didn’t wanna think about it.

Still don’t.

So Uncle is killed and Snoop sees the light.  It sounds a cliche, it ought to be a cliche, perhaps it is a cliche, but her telling is good.  Clear, complex, honest.  Her relationship sustains her.  Her dreams sustain her.  The soap opera Guiding Light, Cosby-show spinoff A Different World, Jerry Springer, they sustain her.  And getting educated sustains her. In a way I never saw before, Snoop shows how and why ‘trash’ TV serves people.

Grace After Midnight is filled with dreams and reality, echoes and predictions, mirrorings. Midnight is the darker world before Uncle’s murder, Grace the Light she finds to cling to afterwards.  It is a book with a message, not a cloying, saccharine message, but a realistic one, because it recognises its pain and its sources of pain, and can distinguish between cause and symptom more clearly than most news accounts of the street do.

And it works because it is down to earth.  Snoop gets luck, runs into Michael K Williams in a Baltimore gay club and gets invited to come down to the set. She hasn’t acted before, but her look, her style, her personality impress, and she steps up from a brief appearance towards the end of The Wire’s third season to being one of the leading players in the last two seasons, and one of the most memorable death scenes on TV.  But that last is beyond the end of this book.

Throughout her memoir, Snoop talks about not feeling anything, about not wanting to think about things.  It is clear that the violence for her, like so many others, is pain she understood replacing pain she didn’t.

I started feeling–period.

Ain’t saying I’m the best actor out here. I know I’m not. But I also know that acting, by showing me how to feel, also showed me I hadn’t been feeling at all.

You can’t sell dope all day and still feel.

You can’t kill niggas and still feel.

You just can’t.

When I acted out the part of Snoop, I saw that to do the things she does — the murders she commits — she had to shut herself down.

that’s an awful thing.  That’s a fuckin’ brutal thing.

The Wire series is ultimately a tragedy, but peppered with personal redemptions and ends with a major character being offered a new chance and lacking the support, courage or confidence perhaps, to really take it and back he goes.  The recent news of Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson’s drugs arrest is saddening, but the things she has achieved as a person, with this book, with her life in grace after midnight, remain.

“What you feed us as seeds grows and then blows up in your face — that’s thug life.” — Tupac Shakur


About Kev McVeigh

Review of literary matters, mostly but not all SFF , and digressions into music and other arts. Engagement welcomed.
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