'The Story' by A'Ziah King

'Florida? Murder? U have the wrong number!'—Review #168

Change of plans. I promised a review of Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita,’ but the devil and his weird demon cat must wait two more weeks. I prefer to share this book: ‘The Story’ by A’Ziah King. It’s brand new. It’s unusual. And it’s a gem.

Here’s the cover:

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Some of you may remember back in October 2015 when the internet was gripped by a story, told over roughly 150 tweets, about ‘Zola’—a woman on a road trip through Florida’s dark, terrifying and sometimes funny world of strip clubs, sex work and violent crime. That story was adapted into a movie called ‘@Zola,’ which came out this summer and was the first movie I saw in a theater since the pandemic started. This book was produced by the film studio as a companion keepsake to the movie, and it showcases the original tweets with a purple fabric cover, purple gilded pages and stylized text that includes the number of retweets and likes each post received. When I removed its protective plastic wrap, I caught a whiff of a rare new-book smell of freshly dried ink and glue. I wish all books smelled like that. Here’s a peek inside:

Zola is a Hooters waitress in Detroit who hits it off with a customer named Jessica. They bond over having sugar daddies and working as strippers. Jessica invites Zola to go to Florida to work at strip clubs there. Zola agrees, but when they get to Florida she realizes she has been tricked. Jessica actually works for a pimp, and they try to press Zola into prostitution. She refuses, and the story gets really wild as Zola tries to survive and return home while navigating seedy hotels, internet sex ads, creepy men, petty gangsters, a kidnapping, a gun battle and a potential murder. Here is a clip from the movie where Zola (played by Taylour Paige) realizes that Jessica (renamed Stefani in the movie and played by Riley Keough) has double-crossed her:

Re-reading the tweets after nearly six years, I was amazed at how much drama, intensity and nuance King crammed into 140-character snippets. (The book has footnotes to help readers who may not be familiar with vernacular such as ‘sugar daddy’ and ‘hoe trips.’) I saw somewhere these tweets compared to an epic poem like those of antiquity where heroes faced many dangers on a journey home. Zola is our Odysseus. Putting King’s tweets into a book takes them out of Twitter’s ephemera and gives them corporeal, lasting and literary form. So whenever you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, which is roughly how long it takes to read ‘The Story,’ you can be reminded:

The Story’ is written in the tone of someone who has survived trauma and is looking back on it with a laugh. But also it offers a chilling glimpse at sex work from a woman’s perspective. You feel the inherent fear that comes from not knowing who is coming though that hotel-room door and what they’re going to do, or what’s in store when you’re summoned to an unknown location for an ‘outcall.’ (The film amplifies this, graphically.) Men, from Johns to pimps, often are portrayed as ugly bumblers without much common sense, but their potential for violence always is clear and present. I understand this book might not be to everyone’s taste, and that many of you may be like:

But as author and fellow newsletter writer Roxane Gay notes in her foreword: ‘Great stories can be found anywhere if you’re open to the possibility.’ I agree. I like this book, and I think it gives new life to an important story and a striking literary voice. If you’re up for reading something non-traditional in nearly every sense of the word, then check out ‘The Story.’

How it begins:

Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kinda long but full of suspense 😂 😭

Okay listen up. This story long. So I met this white bitch at hooters. I was her waitress! She came in with this old ass big ass black dude.

So you know as a hooters girl we have to talk to our customers. So I sit wit them & we get to talkin & she tells me she dances! So I’m like Oh yes bitch me too!

Then she tells me this hulking black man is her sugar daddy. & I’m like oh yes bitch my SD at home.

I feel it I feel it

So we vibing over our hoeism or whatever. & we exchange numbers!! & we like “next time u dance hun ima come dance wit you!”

& they leave

So THE NEXT DAY I get a text like

“Bitch lets go to Florida!”

My rating:

The Story’ by A’Ziah King was ‘written in 150 tweets between 9:32 PM and 11:57 PM, October 27, 2015 by @_zolamoon,’ according to the title page of the book, and was published by A24 Films LLC in 2021. 128 pages. $28 at A24 Films.

Let’s discuss:

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