If all you were to do was to skim read it might be easy to see why it is that those who criticize this extraordinary novel for being clichéd: for portraying the inmates as brutal, brutalized, racist, sexist, homophobic: for demeaning whites and for ennobling blacks, Hispanics, Latinos etc., do so. However, a closer reading would find that this was far from the truth. I suspect those making the criticism haven't been within a hundred miles of the kind of institution upon which the Green River State Penitentiary is based. This reviewer hasn't either but if those depicted in any U.S. prison documentary that I have ever seen are half way near being true portrayals then this book certainly has the ring of truth. It's even been criticized for having a female character who likes sport - imagine that!
There are no criticisms levelled at this book that could not also be levelled at movies such as Shawshank, Brubaker, Cool Hand Luke, American History X, Felon etc. and it is from such as these that the vast majority of readers will have taken their mental images of high security prisons in the U.S. It is not a documentary; it is fiction and should be taken at face value and in purely fictional terms that value is extremely high.
The book is vividly plotted, the prose style mesmerizing and the characters three-dimensional but it is definitely not for the faint-hearted being as it is punctured, periodically, by unsavoury and brutal depictions of the bestiality inherent in human beings endeavouring to survive in the most nightmarishly vicious of environments: this is truly Darwinism in action.
If you're looking for brilliantly realized drama of epic proportions that will keep you reading long into the night - you need look no further!