Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Completed: Why I'm Like This

Dear Jenny,

This book was... okay. A little bit of a disappointment because I had really expected it to be hilarious. I don't know why I expected that, but I did. I guess part of it was this quote on the front: "Striking a note somewhere between David Sedaris and Anna Quindlen...." and on the back: "Knee-slapping hilarious."  And also this awesome opener that I already mentioned to you: "Author's Note: I have changed the names of some people and some places because my editor made me." Funny shit, right?

I can't remember now I even came across this book. I'm guessing I read a review, someone said it was hilarious, I read one hilarious snippet and picked it up (I really should leave myself a little note in these books to remind my Future Self why I was interested in the first place... when I *buy* a book, it just never occurs to me: "I might not read this for a long, long time." But it should. I think this blog is a good indicator that this is a Thing for me. So... yeah.)

Back to the book, then. This was a book of short "true stories" (subtitle on the front) from the author's life. Many of the stories were quite poignant. And not poignant-but-funny. Just poignant.  (So on the David Sedaris <---> Anna Quindlen scale, coming in waaaaay closer to AQ than DS.) She's a good writer and she writes her stories well -- it just wasn't what I was expecting. And I can't help but feeling like, "For that amount of time, I could just call a friend I haven't talked to in awhile and catch up with their stories." I now know quite a bit about this author and we're not even friends. After reading a book, I don't like to think, "How could I have better spent my time?"And I had that thought with this one. It's not a bad book. It's just... not what I wanted. Fortunately, it was a very quick read!

The first story was perhaps the funniest, but when the camp reject turned out to be someone else, I thought, "Huh. Who is this person?" The author tries to paint herself as sort of wacky "outsider" but  she's never the "true weirdo" in these stories (which... would probably be funnier, right?) Really... she's just a chick. Living any chick's life. She loves her grandma, her husband is the Best. Guy. Ever! and her son is pure perfection. You know... a chick like you and me. I liked her just fine. But as I said... she's not my friend. I would rather read 206 pages written by you, Jenny. (Which is why I joined Facebook, of course... Heh.)

I wrote about this in the comments on your March book post, but I'll babble on a bit more about it here... it hardly seems fair to a book (or author) but so much of a person's opinion of a work can be influenced by expectations. (I include almost anything in this, really -- movies, plays, a new album... Christmas!) I expected this book to be hilarious. It was not. I was disappointed. It wasn't a bad book. It was just not the book I expected. (Sometimes it works in favor of the book/movie/etc: I expect it to be horrible and when it's just fine, well, "That was actually all right!")

Okay... to give a quick "highlights reel" then...  the stories in the beginning of the book are funnier ("Had I known what high school would be like, I would have asked my parents to set me adrift on an ice floe at puberty." [11]) but the final ones are pretty much all-poignant-all-the-time (seeing a man in a wheelchair buying children's clothes and reflecting about her own good fortune; observing her grandma's obliviousness to her own decline; you know... poignant shit).

However, one of the most powerful parts of the book does come out of the, as I so elegantly put it, "poignant shit" (I'm a goddamned artist with words, aren't I?):
When my son emerged from his watery nest in my belly last year, my husband, conversely, submerged. He dissolved with a celebratory fizz followed by silence  like the flattening of champagne, like a bromide, into the murky depths of fatherhood, which is nothing akin to husbandhood. It was not at all his fault, but my own. I cast him off. That I did so unwittingly is not much of an excuse. But I did not know that my son would displace him so thoroughly nor that my episiotomy would hurt for almost a year. [190]
I see friends of mine wrestling with this issue (or not wrestling with it at all...) constantly. At this point in my life, it's the primary reason I don't have kids: I am selfish and want my husband all to myself. (No joke. He's mine and I'm not sharing.) I'm not saying that this happens to every woman -- in fact, I know that it doesn't! But the fear that it could happen to me (confirmed by this author and many others) is enough for me to decide that it's not worth the risk (of course, I was never all that interested in having kids anyway -- I admit it! But reports like this... they seal the deal.)

Soo... while that passage is good and moving and honest... it's not really "funny." I guess the thing about the episiotomy tries to bring the humor at the end, but... that's a valid fear for me too! I'm a slow healer! So... no. Not funny. But touching (she does re-connect with her husband in a later chapter, so that's really where the touching part comes in...) and definitely real. I think that even moms who have done a good job of balancing can still see some truth here -- any time when the choice has to be made between being "mother" and "wife," I would think that the reality of the "murky depths of fatherhood [being] nothing akin to husbandhood" are probably true. (Feel free to tell me I don't know shit about this, btw -- I'm *not* a mom, so I can only observe and report!)

Finally, I will finish on a positive note. A line that made me laugh out loud (so you know it was from the beginning of the book). She is telling a story about camp. She goes on a long riff about s'mores, which I appreciate because her deep and abiding love of the s'more is clearly similar to my own. And then she says: "I'd had seven. Which as anyone knows is four too many."[7] Bwahaha. Of course. The Universal S'more Scale, right?

After that... well. I know a lot about Cynthia Kaplan's personal life now. I didn't need to, and I'm not worse off for knowing it, but... well. It just wasn't what I was expecting.



  1. Well, I will say this, the "everyone knows that's four too many" actually did make me laugh out loud! S'mores are so freaking delicious.

    It's fascinating to me that we both had a similar experience with this month's book. You're so right that the weight of expectations can be crushing. I totally prefer it when it goes the other way: hey, I thought that would be so awful, and so it was halfway decent.

    Do you ever just avoid things that you suspect might make you that way? For example, I have avoided the second Sex and the City movie because I think it will be so terrible. I also suspect that something similar at work is keeping me from reading Bring Up the Bodies.

    As for the part about husbandhood/fatherhood can be very true for people. Hmm. It's funny, because when I think about that time in my life, it's not my husband I think about...it's me! I was a mess. It's totally why I was "one and done." I have no idea how or why people want to have more than one. I try to be all understanding about it, I do, but when people talk about how it felt to desperately want another, I have no way to understand. To me, it would be like someone saying, "Remember how hellaciously hot it was to walk over those burning coals! I can't wait to do that again. And pay for those burning coals to go to college." It just seems *insane* to me!

    I used to tell people, "Imagine a pie chart that's 100% you. When I had the baby, I felt like I turned into 99% Mom. I want to be myself again."

    Ah well. Let's hope next month's books have lower expectations?

  2. Well.. if you were 99% Mom... what percent were you "Wife," right? So... even if you didn't think about it the way that the author is talking about, you felt that "losing yourself" (however you identify yourself) feeling that I think is what she is addressing (for her, she felt it keenly when she was looking for the part of herself she identified as "spouse," for you, it was the part you identified simply as "me").

    Regardless, I'm selfish and want to give *nothing* up for some damned parasite. Heh.

    Re: Having more kids.... you are one of the very few (like, two) mothers I know who have not succumbed to some kind of crazy "amnesia" that seems to happen to most parents, wherein they... forget? block out? what it was like to have a baby. I think it's some sort of fluid that our bodies secrete that numbs the brain so that the species will continue to propagate. What *else* could explain all of these people walking over hot coals repeatedly? Shit -- just the horror stories I *hear* from parents are enough to make me run away screaming. And I didn't even go through it myself!

    Re: Expectations... yes, I have avoided many things out of dread of how I'm going to hate them... like Gone Girl last year! Which, I truly think benefitted from my extremely low expectations (almost a dread) of the book.

    Dumb movies probably benefit the most from the Low Expectation Factor.

    Maybe both of our March books suffered from Midwester Spring Expectations. It gets a little warm, the flowers start to bloom, the days get a little longer and boom! It's below freezing and snowing again and the flowers are dead. I was fine with the freezing all winter long (well, not "fine" but you know... I took my lumps. I signed up for this) but I didn't know how March would be such a damned *tease*. People have been talking about "spring this" and "spring that" -- long before I even saw a glimmer of it! But now we've had some warm days (it was 63 here two weeks ago!) followed by 29-and-windy-feels-like-15 days. That's hard to swallow.

    The Michigan groundhog actually issued an "official apology" for saying spring was going to come early this year. I'll blame her -- she set the expectations too high. Heh.

    Next month's books will probably benefit from last month's books disappointments, doncha think? Like, "Well, let's see what *you* have to offer, April Book..." Unless there's the "April's Book, you'd *better* be good!" backlash.

  3. Last night when I couldn't sleep, I watched "Snow White and the Huntsman" which I thought would be awful. And instead I was pleasantly surprised!

    Now, off to start the Casual Vacancy...will it be a similar experience?