Todd Murphy’s “Homeless”: A memoir of a forgotten man
Todd Murphy’s “Homeless: A Day in the Life” promises an interesting read from the preface, where Murphy explains that nearly every event in the novel’s 197 pages happened to him during the two and a half years that he lived on the streets.
While not written autobiographically, “Homeless” weaves a grim story — a raw portrayal of the harsh realities of living on the street. The protagonist has no name and is simply referred to as “our friend.” In the preface, Murphy states “nobody remembers the names of derelicts and beggars.”
Our friend’s life is a hard one. He scavenges through dumpsters, looking for food and items that may be worth selling. He sits on the street with cleverly worded cardboard signs, such as “$2 short of the minimum deposit for Swiss Bank Account.” Even though he never steals anything for fear of being caught, he still avoids the police as best he can, knowing most of them are “alright” but wary of any bad apples.
Even with all this trepidation and worry, Murphy’s protagonist is not bitter. He carries a macabre humor through the pages. It would be all too easy to write a morose, somber story about being homeless. But Murphy’s dark sense of humor and clever aloofness carry our friend— and probably Murphy himself — through his time on the streets.
The only disappointment with “Homeless: A Day in the Life” is that the reader never finds out the circumstances that forced our friend onto the streets. “When people live paycheck to paycheck, unless they’re a serious, hard-core drug addict, then the [cause of their homelessness] is always the same: a series of problems,” Murphy said in an interview.
This uncertainty forces the reader to remember that when we see a person experiencing homelessness on the street, we do not know how they got there. Our friend’s story is a reminder that each person’s story is unique and that we should never assume we know or understand someone’s experience.
Our friend is a static character. He ends the story the same way he starts it, homeless. The restraints of his economic situation have limited his progress. However, the reader’s slow introduction to the character serves as a replacement for typical character development.
The novel’s subtitle is quite literal. The whole book consists of a single day in our friend’s life. Murphy said he was inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which follows a Russian gulag prisoner through one day of his experiences.
Due to the short timeframe, the book is almost hyper-descriptive of the setting and our friend’s thoughts. His mind grasps at lofty subjects like the merits of Marxism or the overarching causes of the homelessness epidemic. The most interesting parts of the book are when the narrative dives into our friend’s head for an extended stay.
Just as there is not a typical character arc, there is no all-encompassing plot. Because our friend is not bound by societal schedules and the constant need to stay one step ahead of the clock, he simply decides to do something, setting off a small story arc. Once he has done it, he moves on. Everything he decides to do is a short adventure, down to the seemingly innocuous task of finding a restroom to use.
Rather than including delicately placed metaphor and flowery prose, Murphy writes direct, snappy sentences. The abbreviated voice leans into the uncertainty our friend experiences while living on the streets. Murphy said his writing style reflects our friend’s need to stay in the moment, to live his life day to day.
“Homeless: A Day in the Life” is a compelling read, a memoir of a man whose memory never stayed too long in the minds of those who passed him by.
Todd Murphy’s “Homeless: A Day in the Life” is available on Amazon.com.