Book Review: Johnny's Girl, by Kim Rich

Kim’s mother was a prostitute and a B-girl (apparently something before strippers, they worked in bars for a commission on drinks) in pre oil boom Anchorage until she went crazy and was institutionalized. Her father hustled cards, ran whorehouses, owned gambling houses and “massage parlors,” and sold guns until he was murdered. In the book Kim, a journalist, investigates and unflinchingly explores her childhood in what she calls Anchorage’s underworld.

I love reading memoirs not just for the story, but for the way adult authors frame and reframe their child selves. Kim doesn’t disappoint. She describes her past as it was, and then explains her emotional process and journalistic investigation of it.

After a long family history, the book kicks off with the authors pampered early childhood: live in babysitters, adorable outfits, every conceivable toy, huge birthday parties, and two doting parents. Kim’s mother soon relapses into a deep depression later diagnosed as schizophrenia. She leaves her husband, taking Kim with her to the mid-west where Kim bounces between relatives. After a couple years of neglect Kim’s father whisks her away to a life that is gritty, glamorous, and always unstable. They move every few months, dodging bills as Johnny moves from shady business to shady business as if they are sinking life preservers. There is always a stripper/prostitute girlfriend, and police and FBI raids are as frequent as the weather. As a teenager, Kim rebels by attending bible camp and refusing to live in a gambling house (I laughed because I had the same backwards sort of rebellion). When Kim’s father is murdered she decides to wash her hands of the whole shady business and get on with life. Later she researches his death and comes to understand her life.

Summary: this is the previously unwritten history of a world I did some growing up in. The historic perspective has a broad value for anyone interested in Alaska, changing cultures, social deviance, or down and dirty real life outside the pretty picket fence. Strippers and especially Alaskan strippers will really appreciate the history, even though some of the stereotyping is pretty awful.

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