It seems that Patricia Williams, the comedian and popular podcast guest known as “Ms. Pat,” has possessed an irreverent wit her entire life.
Did she ever need it.
In Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat (Dey Street, 227, *** out of four stars), Williams and her co-author, journalist Jeannine Amber, detail a life’s journey so harrowing it is almost too much to fathom.
As a child, Williams saw her beloved grandfather carted off to prison for shooting a woman. Her alcoholic mother behaved at times like a modern-day Fagin, making her daughter steal from her grandfather’s moonshine-guzzling clientele. Williams was molested by one older man, and by the time she turned 15, had given birth to two children, fathered by another.
And yet somehow Williams emerged on the other side, finding love with a devoted partner, raising a large, healthy family of her own, and launching a promising comedic career on her own terms.
With deadpan humor and more than a little profanity, Williams introduces us to the cast of characters that peopled her itinerant childhood in Atlanta. Among them are her “angels” — the school teacher who taught Williams how to read and brought her clean clothes; the local businessman who looked out for Williams and her daughters when she was selling drugs to make ends meet; and the case worker who told Williams she had a gift for storytelling, setting her on a new path.
There are moments when you yearn for Williams to plumb a bit more beneath the surface. She endured a numbing stream of traumatic experiences, and gaining more insight into how those trials affected her would have painted an even richer portrait of her resilience.
But maybe Williams wanted to keep the focus on the joy that came after, as she raised a brood made up of both her and her sister’s children, left behind the dilapidated housing of her impoverished childhood for a large home overlooking a pond, and went from being a middle-school dropout to a rising star on the comedy scene.
Ultimately Rabbit (the title comes from her childhood nickname) feels like you are sitting in Williams’ living room, listening to her tell story after story over a cup of coffee. Somehow she’s managed to pull hilarity out of heartache. And when you are done laughing, you rejoice, her final words ringing in your ears.
“No matter what kind of hard times you face,” Williams writes, “remember you can do anything and be anything you want in life. All you have to do is dream.”