Rating: B+/ I watched the movie based on this story, Antwone Fisher, when I was twelve or thirteen, and even though maybe I was a little young for the film’s heavy themes, the plot stuck with me for years. I had the memoir on my shelf for years and had unsuccessfully tried to get through it once when one day I remembered it and impulsively decided to pick it up. It’s hard to call this an ‘inspirational’ story, because of the severity of abuse the author, Antwone Fisher, suffers as a child. However it’s a book that makes you think about the resilience of the human spirit, and it’s impossible to not a little in awe of Fisher. He’s had a fascinating life, and he seems to have bounced back from his abusive childhood with a great deal of candor and strength.
Antwone Quenton Fisher (or ‘Twonny,’ as he was sometimes disparagingly called) spent most of his childhood in a foster home so horrible that it makes a lot of childhood trauma stories seems quaint in comparison. His foster mother, Miss Pickett, was a smug religious hypocrite who would tie him up in the basement and beat him senseless and once beat him until he literally lost consciousness. He was molested by a babysitter when he was little and he and his foster siblings lived in constant fear of their foster mother, who was as irrational as she was sadistic.
Antwone grew to adolescence with a bedwetting problem and a stammer, and after being eventually thrown onto the street he joined the navy, which helped him eventually come into his own. As well as discussing the actions of the people who abused him, Fisher gives a special shout-out to those who fought to make his life bearable, though their small acts of kindness are overshadowed by the more deplorable people in this story. This book makes you think about what it is about certain people that makes them survive unlivable circumstances and not be turned mean by the world.
Antwone’s foster brother Dwight, who suffered constant abuse in the Pickett’s household as well, ended up spending most of his life in the prison system. Antwone says good things about Dwight, even though Dwight was an angry kid who often took his anger out on Antwone, and one wonders if there was a defining factor that caused Antwone to pull himself up by his bootstraps and not be destroyed by his past yet landed Dwight in prison for most of his life. Overall, Finding Fish is a success story, but it can be very hard to read and takes many, many pages to get to the success.
Antwone Quenton Fisher is a powerful writer, although I get the impression from the poetry he included in his book that he’s better at prose than being a poet. His narrative is neither manipulative or overly cloying and sentimental. He doesn’t wallow in self-pity like a lot of memoirists do, and he describes his situation in a very matter-of-fact way. His direct style makes Finding Fish all the more moving.
Even if you’ve seen the movie version with Derek Luke and Denzel Washington, I still recommend that you read the book, because they’re much different and both worth experiencing in their own way. The movie took a story that was not going to be able to be told in it’s entirety and compartmentalized it, making it easy to watch in one sitting and understand. If I remember correctly, the film focuses on Antwone’s time in basic training and his childhood abuse, but many aspects of the book were changed or outright ignored in order to tell the basic story more clearly.
It’s impossible not to feel compassion for the author when you read this memoir, and it is heartbreaking to see his abuse at the hands of adults throughout his childhood. This book made me want to watch the movie again, since it’s been almost ten years since I saw it last. I was surprised how much of it I remembered; it really made an impression on me. I think I will remember this book for a long time as well. It’s very dark in a lot of ways, but it also contains a feeling of hope as Antwone flourishes in the navy and eventually goes on to raise a family.
Finding Fish follows Fisher from early childhood as an unloved foster child to his eventual coming of age in the Navy and finally his career as a Hollywood screenwriter and his discovery of his birth mother. I was amazed by the way he managed to transform his life; other people helped along the way, but ultimately, it was mostly him who managed to pull himself together and ask for help when he needed it. This story would be incredibly affecting if it was a work of fiction, the fact that it is all more or less true makes it that much more extraordinary. A memoir of uncommon emotional heft, Finding Fish is a important book, although it’s heavy and, overall, not a happy read.