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  • Writer's pictureMatt Johnston

Getting Hot and Sweaty In Florida – But Not In A Good Way

Angie Cavallari’s, Trailer Trash, an 80's memoir gives the personal account of her young life growing up in Tampa Florida, after her parents moved down from Chicago to run the Pelican Mobile Home Park. The experience is written with honesty, and without either sentimentality or sensationalism, offering a Bukowskiesque insight into the lives of their tenants as they are left to sweat and self-destruct.

This is a world of addiction, criminality and failing physical and mental health, seen through the young eyes of the author as a young girl. A fly on the wall view point not burdened by an adult understanding of their conditions. It is this perspective which saves the work from becoming a grim exploration of an American underclass as by maintaining the childish observation the author ensures the oddball tenant retain both character and warmth and do not simply become the sum of their individual and collective failings. In this way the tragedy is laced with some moments of pure comedy.

That is not to say we are left in any doubt as to the unsanitary and troubled place in which has shaped her early life. But it is a desperate environment offset by the immature concerns of what television to watch, 80’s chemical laden processed food, and her awkwardness with her peers and the petty squabbles with her siblings. The narrative is studded with countless 80’s retro references, many of which I am personally unfamiliar with but recognise the importance they might play in both the mind of the young author and framing the narrative. Similarly, the book comes supplemented with its own soundtrack, giving a recognisable context to her experiences.

This is a world in which threats are plentiful, and possible so numerous that they become commonplace. But the perfect storm comes from the sense of loneliness in a place where relationships outside the family are transient collides with the pressures of body image and sexual awakening. Here, as with all young people, the malaise of the adult world around her are of secondary importance to the more personal traumas victories.

A criticism might possibly be that Cavallari pulls her punches, limiting the accounts to those first hand memories rather than providing the detailed accounts which she would surely have learnt when she was older. At points this was a frustration, curtailing our understanding of the dynamics between the numerous tenants, and I am certain that there are a thousand and one anecdotes which have not made the cut which would be well worth reading. It is a short book and I do not feel this would have detracted from the work.

Yet in limiting her account she has remained true to her desire to write a memoir, and not a historical account of what happened. In this way it retains honesty, but possibly at the cost of reworking the story into a truly jaw dropping work of fiction. If there are other writers who wish to employ a trailer park as the backdrop for their novel, I would highly recommend that they get in touch.



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